Clijsters hopeful of successful swansong

Hip injury wont deter defending champion

Kim Clijsters, who is set to retire for a second time this year, hopes to say farewell to Australia by defending her title at Melbourne Park but the Belgian's swan song Down Under almost came a week early thanks to an injury sustained in Brisbane.

Instead of walking out to start her Australian Open defence on Monday, Clijsters could have brought the curtain down on her time in Australia with a shake of Daniela Hantuchova's hand at the Brisbane International last week.

Fortunately for 'Aussie Kim', the hip injury that forced her to withdraw from the Brisbane semifinal against the Slovak was not serious, and she knew she would be able to defend her title in Melbourne.

"I think what happened in Brisbane was something that I knew ... was something that would only need a few days to get better," the 28-year-old Belgian told reporters on Saturday.

"I had my scan just to make sure ... but that showed no problems. So I was relieved (and then) came to Melbourne and started hitting when I got here."

Clijsters has indicated this will be her last year on tour but has been cagey about exactly when she takes her final bow.

She said she did not have a feeling of finality when she left home to travel to Australia, a country that adopted her as one of their own during her relationship with Lleyton Hewitt earlier in her career.

"I just felt very focused on why I'm here, and that's obviously to play good tennis and try to stay healthy throughout the whole season, not to have major injuries where my season might be a question mark, which I would kind of like to end on my terms," she added.

"So, yeah, I'm not thinking about it (retirement) at all."

Clijsters, who along with 30-year-old Serena Williams, are part of the older brigade as a generational change takes place on the WTA Tour, said the playing field had levelled out in recent years.

"It's definitely a completely different situation than we had let's say eight years ago or so where it was kind of easy to almost pencil in quarterfinalists or semifinalists in the draw," she said.

"I think that's completely different now, which makes it more fun. ... I think on any given day, whoever just plays that little bit better can win.

"I think that's why a lot of girls have belief in their chances to win a Grand Slam is because they have beaten some of the girls that have won Grand Slams before. I think that's something that this year, you know, a lot of the top players are going to have to be very careful with.

"There's going to be a lot of lower-ranked players who are still going to have big opportunities to beat some top players and get chances in Grand Slams."

Pressure on Stosur

Sam Stosur confirmed her potential with a long-awaited Grand Slam crown at the US Open but she will confront her mental demons once again at Melbourne Park where the burden of expectation has often left her cowering like a rabbit in the headlights. The Australian number one's emphatic win over Serena Williams on the American's stomping ground at Flushing Meadows has ratcheted up the pressure again, with local fans expectant of a first home champion since Chris Lewis's 1978 triumph in the women's singles.

Despite gleaning confidence from joining the Grand Slam club, world number six Stosur has appeared as brittle as ever on Australian soil, bundled out early in both the Brisbane and Sydney warm-up events.

Unlike many on the tour, the plainspoken Queenslander has never shied away from discussing her stage-fright in Melbourne. "I definitely analyse it, talk about it, assess what happened out on court and why, all that kind of thing," Stosur said of her disappointing leadup, which included a straight sets loss in Sydney to Italy's Francesca Schiavone, her 2010 French Open final nemesis.

"Kind of once we've had that talk, then, yeah, you don't want to dwell on anything too negative. You can't dwell on anything that you weren't happy about for too long. Yeah, take what you can out of it, do whatever you need to change, if you need to change anything."

For Stosur, a muscular 27-year-old with a killer forehand, that amounts to easing the pressure on herself and consulting a psychologist at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Stosur said she had been in touch with Ruth Anderson, the psychologist she credited for turning her game around when she reached a low ebb early last year.

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