NEW YORK – A cool gray sky greeted 35-or-so thousand parishioners as another US Open arrived yesterday. But Jada Ellie Lynch’s old lady – a sunny-plus personality — was out there sweeping her favorite court and making people feel good in the gloom. Sweeping not with a broom, which she does as a housewife – but with a tennis racket again.
They had missed Jada Ellie Lynch’s old lady, who brightened any tennis match, win or lose, and was known across the planet as Kim Clijsters of Belgium. Marriage, then motherhood intervened, and Kim, the US champ in 2005, was out of the tennis business after Warsaw in April 2007, ranking number 5 and in the top ten four other years. She had held the number one ranking in both singles and doubles, a rare accomplishment these days, in August 2003.
Ah, but she is only 26, and the inevitable comeback itch also intervened. Jada Ellie Lynch, who is 18-months-old, did not object. Nor did American Brian Lynch, who had a professional basketball career in Europe.
“Brian was excited when I decided to try it again,” she says after sweeping away No. 79 Viktoriya Kutuzova, a Ukrainian, 6-1, 6-1. “He was anxious to see me play again.”
Life will get tougher than that, but Kim’s remarkable reappearance at Cincinnati and then the Canadian Open in Toronto netted prominent scalps: No. 13 Marion Bartoli, No. 20 Patty Schneider, No. 6 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 9 Viktoria Azarenka. She was defeated in Cincinnati by No. 1 Dinara Safina.
Winner of 34 singles titles, and housewifely petty cash of $ 14,828,881, she started “thinking comeback the end of January when I was invited to play an exhibition mixed doubles with Tim Henman against Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf under the new Wimbledon roof. I was like ‘whoa!’ I have to get in shape for this.
“I have to admit I didn’t really miss it until I started preparing myself for the Wimbledon exhibition. As I got on with the training, the hunger for competition and the challenge of trying to get myself back in shape, and see if I’m capable of playing with these girls. That was the biggest reason.”
Still her expectations were not great. “But when you’ve been up there, you’ve experienced those emotions and feelings of playing in the big matches. You do it for those big matches.
“Brian and I talked it over, and decided we’d give it a shot. This isn’t something I’m going to be doing for the next five or 10 years. Might as well, you know, until we try for No. 2 child, I guess.
“It’s kind of a trial, so I can get used to everything again. I hopefully will be ready to (really) go in January.
“How am I different [from winning here four years ago over Sister Venus, Maria Sharapova and Mary Pierce, making four other major finals]? More organized. You have to plan more with a baby. But it’s fun and has helped me a lot.”
Few women have won a major after giving birth. Australian Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon in 1980, was the most recent, but Kim will be in the derby.
Returning to the ball park now known as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has stirred “nice feelings and pleasant memories. I remember walking through the corridors, walking up to the center court for the final. It brings back that day. I didn’t think about it while I played, but before, just driving up here, seeing the court. I’m glad I have those memories.”
The 2005 title bout was a routine 6-3, 6-1, triumph over Pierce, but Kim had to run and slug brilliantly from the baseline to overtake Venus, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, and Sharapova, 6-2, 6-7 (4-7). 6-3. The fact that she carried off a female record $ 2.2 million, along with a trophy was comforting, too. Might it still be in a cookie jar for Jada Ellie to play with?
As the lady in red, gowned to bang her ominous groundies and make Kutuzova see red, Kim felt she belonged again yesterday. However, the road will be bumpier than Cincinnati and Toronto, and she knows it. Kutuzova was just a shrimp cocktail. Danger lurks in Marion Bartoli, Wimbledon finalist in 2007. And beyond.
She says, “I have noticed that a lot of the younger girls and the girls that came along in the last couple years, their determination is very high. They play similar games, really go for their shots, play aggressive tennis. I haven’t seen a lot of girls change their games a little bit.”
Clijsters came in recognized for her sweet disposition and murderous backcourt game – but unranked. She needed a deserved gift, a wild card, to get through the back door and walk those memorable corridors. A ranking will be pinned to her following the Open.
Sister Serna says Clijsters hasn’t lost a step during her absence, and Kim says she’s still able to do the splits, a personal tour de force.
Jada Ellie Lynch isn’t quite up to yelling “Knock ‘em dead Mom!” at her old lady. But give her time.