at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
New York – Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray led a torrent of praise for Kim Clijsters on Saturday as the three-time U.S. Open champion prepared for the final tournament of her storied career.
Clijsters is chasing a fairytale ending at Flushing Meadows before retiring at the age of 29. She first retired in 2007 but returned two years later to become the first wildcard to win the U.S. Open and the first mother to win a major championship since Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980.
“What's there to say about Kim?” Sharapova said. “There's so many great things besides the fact she's been an incredible tennis player and champion. She's someone that went away from the sport to commit herself to being a mother and a good wife and then coming back and being a professional and winning a few more grand slams.
“She was always so focused and determined. One of the best athletes the game saw in women's tennis,” Sharapova said.
“And just a really great person, very humble. At the end of the day, just a down-to-earth person that reflected on life in a very good way.”
Clijsters praised Murray's ability to handle pressure at Wimbledon this year and the Scot returned the favour in New York.
“As a person, which is much more important than the tennis, she's a lovely person,” Murray said.
He also admired the competitive side of Clijsters, Murray said.
“Early in her career she obviously had a lot of tough losses. She was competing with Justine Henin and a lot of pressure came with that. She lost a lot of tough matches to Henin. She managed to turn that around after taking a break. To come back to win a slam, or a couple more slams, is pretty incredible.
“I'm sure she will be remembered as one of the best players of the last 15, 20 years, and also one of the best people.”
Venus Williams said Clijsters' successful return to the tour in 2009 fuelled hope that her own recovery from an autoimmune disease was possible.
“Kim has had a resurgence like no other, coming back to win two majors,” Williams said.
“I think she's inspiration for everyone who has said if you put your mind to it, if you have a dream, you can do whatever you want.”
Top seed Victoria Azarenka described Clijsters as the ideal role model.
“For the kids she's one of the people who you always like to be around,” she said. “Obviously a lot of people love here. She's definitely one everybody is going to miss. “
Defending U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur said women's tennis would be poorer for the loss of Clijsters.
“She's still so young and she's accomplished so much,” Stosur said. “I can imagine this is the perfect place for her to stop given the success she's had here in the past.” – Reuters