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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kim Clijsters Retires, Becomes Model of Mental Toughness

Kim Clijsters' great career ended today at the 2012 US Open. British 18-year-old, Laura Robson, played an aggressive style to pull off the upset. Too bad it was in front of a small crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium. More importantly, Clijsters will be remembered as a champion and a great person - and maybe not in that order. So, you can be a great person and competitor. There is no need to be cold or unfriendly to try and intimidate your opponents.

Clijsters' attitude was not always embraced as positively as it is today. Before winning her first Slam many thought Kim was not mentally tough enough. In my opinion that statement does not give credit to the great Justine Henin who often stood in Clijsters' way for a Slam. Kim did get nervous in some early Grand Slam opportunities but she has more than overcome any issues with nerves. And, that is not a knock on Clijsters. The great Roger Federer has admitted dealing with nerves especially early in his career.

Three US Open championships later and Clijsters is now held in high regard as a competitor. It is hard to believe this but the last time Kim lost at the Open was 2003 against Henin. Twenty-two straight matches. Amazing, especially over a nine year span.

What I have appreciated about Clijsters is her ability to be mentally tough despite not having a big weapon on the forehand, backhand, or serve. Her weapon is her movement and ability to play defense which is great, but you have to hit a ton of balls to win that way. Where Serena can serve her way out of any break point situation, Clijsters usually has to grind her way to victory. That takes a strong mental commitment and trust in your game.

Ultimately I think we learned two very important lessons when we think about Kim Clijsters. First, you can be a nice person and finish first. Second, just because your mental game is under attack early in your career you can develop your mental toughness and become a model of it to other players.

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