Born in Belgium in 1983, tennis player Kim Clijsters made her professional debut in 1999. She became the top-ranked player in the world in 2003, and in 2005 she won her first Grand Slam singles championship at the U.S. Open. After retiring in 2007, Clijsters returned in 2009 to win three more Grand Slam titles. She retired for good in 2012.
Kim Antonie Lode Clijsters was born on June 8, 1983, in Bilzen, Limburg, Belgium. Clijsters was born into an athletic family; her father, Lei, was an international soccer player, and mother, Els, was a Belgian gymnastics champion. Clijsters began playing tennis at an early age and, by the time she was 6, began competing in the sport.
By 1992, Clijsters had become an accomplished amateur player. Impressed with the young Belgian's athletic abilities, tennis coach Bart Van Kerckhoven decided to coach Clijsters. With Van Kerckhoven's help, the 11-year-old Clijsters won the Belgian Junior Championship in 1994.
At the age of 13, Clijsters decided to hone her game further by attending the Wilrijk tennis school. During her time at Wilrijk, Clijsters left the tutelage of Van Kerckhoven and began training with coach Carl Maes. In 1998, at the age of 15, Clijsters wowed fans with her junior Grand Slam success, becoming the youngest National A champion in history. That same year, she also placed 11th in the Wimbledon junior event, and won the French and U.S. Open doubles titles with partners Jelena Dokic and Eva Dyrberg. Her successes landed her at No. 4 in the International Tennis Federation junior doubles world ranking.
Professional Tennis Success
Clijsters made her professional debut in 1999 at the Women's Tennis Association tour in Antwerp, Belgium. Although she suffered a loss to top seed Sarah Pitkowski, Clijsters made it to the quarterfinals. That same year, she made it through the main draw at Wimbledon, but lost to Steffi Graf in the fourth round. She also reached the third round of the U.S. Open, before losing to Serena Williams.
Clijsters proved to be resilient, however, and rebounded in 2002 by winning the Masters. In 2003, she won nine singles tournaments and seven doubles titles. Her successes that year earned her the world No. 1 ranking, and she became the first player to reach the rank without winning a Grand Slam singles title—an honor she would finally earn at the 2005 U.S. Open.
First Retirement and Comeback
Clijsters's career was still on the rise until 2007, when she delivered startling news to her fans: she was retiring from tennis to become a wife and mother. Her time away from the court presented several highs and lows. In July of 2007, she secretly married American basketball player Brian Lynch. The next year, in February 2008, Clijsters gave birth to a daughter, Jada Ellie. A year later, in January 2009, Clijsters suffered a personal loss when her father, Lei, died of lung cancer.
In March of 2009, Clijsters announced that she would be returning to tennis after receiving wild card entries for tournaments in Cincinnati and Toronto. She also decided to compete in the U.S. Open. On August 10, she officially returned to the game. She lost in the Cincinnati quarterfinals and in the third round of the Toronto tournament, but made headlines when she rose from the ranks to win the U.S. Open.
Serena Williams Controversy
Clijsters's semifinal match in that tournament, against Serena Williams, ended dramatically when Williams made profane comments to a line judge on match point. The outburst resulted in a point penalty levied to Williams, giving Clijsters the match on a technicality. The 26-year-old went on to become the first unseeded and unranked female champion of a Grand Slam title, as well as the first mother to win a major since 1980.
More Titles and Second Retirement
Clijsters won her third U.S. Open singles title in 2010, and her triumph at the 2011 Australian Open helped her regain the No. 1 ranking. However, she was slowed by injuries for much of the year, forcing her to withdraw from Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Looking to spend more time with her family, Clijsters retired again after competing at the 2012 U.S. Open.
The four-time Grand Slam singles champ continued to compete in exhibition matches, and took over as director of a Belgian tournament. In 2013, she gave birth to a son, Jack.
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