I'd seen a lot of pictures and videos of the Hall of Fame, but to actually be there in person makes it a lot more special. You feel the history. You feel how unique being a Hall of Famer is.
I actually got emotional. For me, it's almost like your childhood and your whole life kind of flashes through your head. I see Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, players I admired when I was a little girl coming out of school, watching the French Open, seeing them hold trophies up. A few meters forward, there's my picture. It’s very humbling.
In Belgium and across Europe, it’s not in our culture to have those types of tributes, so it only struck me just how special it was when I saw the reaction of everybody else. In Belgium, we'd never heard of the Hall of Fame when I was younger. I didn’t hear about it until I started playing internationally and started going to different sporting events in the United States – NBA events, baseball events, NFL events – and people would be announced as Hall of Famers. In Belgium, we don’t have that, so the only way to fully understand and experience how emotional that moment is when you live it on the day.
I remember the moment I found out I was nominated to the Hall of Fame, and I remember the day I found out that Andy Roddick and I had gotten in on the first ballot. I got a call – actually my husband Brian got a call – which really surprised him, but I don't think it really sunk in straight away. I wasn't home, but Brian said Stan Smith from the Hall of Fame called. Stan didn’t say what it was for, he just asked Brian to have me call him back.
Tennis has been so great to me. It has given me so many opportunities, and it's taught me so many lessons, lessons that are applicable both on and off the court, lessons I often talk with the students at my academy.
I would like to describe them in eight words: dedication, caring, optimism, patience, respect, sacrifice, tolerance and passion. Of those eight words, there are really three that are the most important to me and to all that's happened.
The first is optimism. That is having the right attitude. As you deal with adversity and negative moments, it's important to stay positive. I'm not just talking about tennis, but in life overall.
The second is dedication, taking the time to really devote yourself to whatever you want to accomplish: fitness, mentally being ready, all the extra effort that it takes to succeed. That has been very important to me as well.
Finally, but most importantly, comes passion. You can be optimistic, you can be dedicated, but most of all you have to bring that special energy and desire to anything that you do. Everyone that has stood on this stage before me and will stand here after me has had a passion for the sport of tennis.
I found mine when I was 5 years old, and I'm dedicated to pass it on to the next generation. Those three words are so meaningful. I've learned them through my upbringing, my experiences, from the many matches I've played, the many people I've known and met through tennis.
I was born in Bilzen, but I grew up in Bree and I've always lived there. We still live there now.
My dad was a soccer player when I was young and he was away quite often. There was one trip I remember to this day when he had to go away with his team and my mum and the other women were invited to go on the trip with them. So my mum went with him and I stayed with my cousins and my uncle and they went on a tennis lesson.
I was there on the sideline, picking up balls and running after the balls and that's where my first contact with tennis came from and where my love story started. When my mum and dad came home, I told them I wanted to play tennis, so they looked for a place. I was 5 or 6 years old when I started playing and I never stopped.
My sister and I were brought up by following our instincts and listening to what our hearts told us. I think that's why I know I can't do something when the passion’s not behind it. If I’m not passionate about it, I feel guilty, because then I’m either doing it for the money or the fame. But it's the passion I need if I want to give myself to whatever I’m doing. That’s very important to me. I prefer to live that way.
Steffi was my idol when I was younger and I always wanted to move like her. I remember coming home from kindergarten and grammar school and I couldn’t wait to turn the TV on and watch the French Open, Wimbledon or the US Open and wait for Steffi to play or Monica Seles to play. Monica was another one of my all-time favorites.
I just admired them so much and I wanted to be like them. My sister and I would go out on the driveway at home and pretend that we were Steffi and Monica playing the final of Wimbledon or the final of the French. They were our role models in a way, so I felt very lucky and very nervous when I got to play Steffi in her last Wimbledon in 1999.
That was very special for me at such a young age, so early in my career. It was very cold, a lot of rain, but it didn't bother me at all. I was just so excited that I was able to play against Steffi. I remember I didn't sleep well the night before. I was so excited and full of questions in my head and all these thoughts built up. I was so excited and nervous and anxious – a bunch of different emotions – that I had never experienced up until that moment.
I lost that match, but it’s one I’ll always remember because of the opponent and the occasion. But it was nothing like the excitement I felt when I won my first Grand Slam singles title at the 2005 US Open, especially after losing my first four Grand Slam finals. There was something about that 2005 hard-court season that I can’t explain, but from very early on, I knew it was going to be special.
I don’t know why or what it is out there, but even though I wasn't playing well at Wimbledon or feeling great out on court, the moment I flew to Stanford, it just clicked. Within the first two minutes of my first practice there, I knew. That was how I wanted to feel out on court. It wasn't like I did anything differently or that I prepared differently, it was just a feeling. I’ve always been a player that went by feeling. I was never much of a person that looked at statistics. I went by feeling, by my natural instincts. For some reason, it just fell into place that summer.
I won the Bank of the West, reached the final in San Diego, and won two more titles at the JP Morgan Chase Open in LA and at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. It was the perfect preparation. I played some close matches at the US Open, matches that maybe a year earlier I would lost. But having the confidence of winning some US Open Series tournaments, you realize it's never over until the last shot is hit and that really made me realize that I could fight through some big matches against big-time players.
I was down a set and a break to Venus, and I missed match points against Maria Sharapova before winning in three sets. Once you have those experiences of winning big matches, it takes you to a whole new level mentally. That self-belief made a huge different and I still carry it with me in everything I do.
Hall-of-Famer Kim Clijsters through the years
I married Brian in July 2007 two months after retiring and we had our first child, Jada, the following February.
I never planned on returning to play tennis. It was very innocent when Tim Henman asked me to play an exhibition under the new Wimbledon roof. I was very overwhelmed when they asked me to do that. I had known Tim for a while so I was very excited to play with him and especially against Steffi and Andre. It was too special to pass up.
I decided I was going to try to get back into shape and play halfway decent against Steffi and Andre while I was there. A few weeks into it, I started getting fitter and playing better and that passion and the love for competing came back. I held it inside of me and kept it quiet because I didn’t want to say things that maybe a month I couldn’t take back. I spoke to Brian first to see if he was willing to take on that adventure, and we did.
There were times when the transition was really hard, but again, I went by feeling. We had to adjust a few things here and there, but as a first-time mum it took me a little time about not feeling guilty to leave Jada behind with my mum or with Brian. But you find a good balance. That was one of the biggest things my team and I dealt with trying to find balance between motherhood and being a professional tennis player.
I never had an expectation coming into the 2009 US Open. I just took it one day at a time, one match at a time. I was really focused, so in my bubble. The media were always around when I was practicing and there were always photographers there if Jada was on the sidelines, so we tried to keep it very calm and relaxed and I just did my thing. I would practice or play my matches and go straight back to the hotel. It was very almost businesslike. I did my thing and tennis was my let-go. I could just play freely and enjoy playing tennis again and being back at the US Open, where I'd had so many great memories.
I never expected to win the US Open in 2009. I actually just decided to play a couple tournaments in '09 because I didn't want 2010 to start off not knowing what it's like to travel with a baby, how am I feeling playing matches again. So we decided to go to my favorite part of the tennis season, the hard courts in the States.
It was an extremely crazy roller coaster of emotions. My father passed away that year, six months before that. Having Jada the year before, it was crazy. All of a sudden, it's like when you play a Grand Slam, at least for me, I'm in a bubble. I try not to let any emotions really get to me. Then when it's finished, it all hit me. It was too much to take in and very confusing at times. But at the same time you also want to take it in. You want to really live those deep emotions. So it's very unique. Those are experiences I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I could never have got where I did without an incredible support network of family, coaches and friends.
My father was a world-class athlete and I learned so much from him, about so many things every day, big things and little things. I know that my induction into the Hall of Fame would have made him very, very proud, and would have been very meaningful for him.
The same holds true for my mother. She played a major role in my development as a human being and as an athlete. She showed me even when life doesn't go as you would like it to go, you have to hang in there, and good things will happen. She was a gymnast, so maybe it's true that being able to perform the splits is genetically acquired. Thank you for everything, mum.
My father-in-law, Richard, who has been a big fan from the first day I met him, or even probably before I knew him. He's been a great support. My mother-in-law, Mary, she's an incredible person, a great grandmother. I feel very lucky to have her in my life as a friend, as well.
But I guess I’m most excited and happy to share the honor with my husband Brian, and with my children, Jada, Jack and Blake. They all mean so much to me. When Brian and I started this adventure, after we had Jada, it was amazing. Playing again and winning the US Open so early on, it was a unique experience. Jada is now 9 years old, Jack is almost 4, and Blake is eight months. It’s been an incredible journey, and I’m so glad to share it with all of them.
I try to be a good person and treat everybody the same. I try to bring across my passion at my academy through the kids. That's all you can do to be a good role model and try to follow in your footsteps someday. It's now our chance to give back.
There’s nothing than makes me happier than seeing these kids come out of school with a tennis bag that’s bigger than them and seeing them run out on the court and being all excited and having fun together. That's what you do it for, being able to give kids that joy. That’s why I enjoy it so much, because it brings me back to my childhood about what I really loved about being a kid with a dream.
I am most fortunate that my dreams have come true.