Kim Clijsters on life as a tennis mum

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Kim Clijsters won the US Open for the second time in 2009 and was joined on court afterwards by daughter Jada
Wimbledon 2017 on the BBC
Venue: All England Club Dates: 3-16 July Starts: 11:30 BST
Live: Coverage across BBC TV, BBC Radio and BBC Sport website with further coverage on Red Button, Connected TVs and app. Click for full times.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka is going for glory at Wimbledon – less than seven months after giving birth to son Leo.

Azarenka, 27, who plays Britain’s Heather Watson in round three on Friday, has been speaking this week about the challenges of juggling a professional tennis career with motherhood.

Kim Clijsters, who won the 2009 US Open 18 months after the arrival of daughter Jada, is one of only three women to have won Grand Slam titles after becoming a mother.

“For a first-time mum, travelling on the road full-time is hard – but I am very glad I did it,” Clijsters told BBC Sport.

“It was a big adventure for us as a family and I would not have changed anything.”

There has been plenty of baby-talk at SW19, with Luxembourg player Mandy Minella competing while four and a half months pregnant and seven-time Wimbledon winner Serena Williams absent because she is expecting.

Victoria Azarenka posted this photo on Instagram before her first match at Wimbledon

Like Azarenka, Williams intends to return to the Tour after giving birth – but what will change for her?

From sleeping babies in walk-in wardrobes to emptying the mini-bar, Clijsters tells BBC Sport what it is like to be a tennis mum.

‘We tried to keep everything the same’ – finding a routine for baby

Azarenka is playing only her second tournament since Leo was born in December. She is bidding to emulate Clijsters, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong by winning a Grand Slam title as a mother – Goolagong, who won at SW19 in 1980, is the only mother to have won a Wimbledon singles title in the tournament’s 140-year history.

Clijsters: “My mum cooked every day for us when I was young. She was there all the time and that was the vision I had for Jada too.

“I had to adjust, of course, because at home I was changing nappies and preparing food myself as soon as she woke up, but I still felt like we had it all organised when we went on the road.

“My husband Brian was always there and we also travelled with a nanny who took care of Jada. It meant Brian and I had our own time as well and could even go out to dinner occasionally. That was important.

“We just tried to balance things like that and have the same routine, and it worked really well for her, and for us.

“As a player, you don’t normally have much order to your life but I wanted to structure things for Jada. I didn’t want different people to be taking care of her at different tournaments.

Victoria Azarenka with her son Leo during a break from the Mallorca Open in June

“It was the same with food, although she eats almost everything. We travelled the world with a portable steamer-blender and I must know every organic store near all of the tournaments I played at.

“That was the first thing we did – we would ask for a fridge to be added to our hotel room or we would empty the mini-bar out so we could stock up on vegetables and fish, or whatever she had to eat.

“Jada was potty-trained in a hotel room too. All the little things like that happened while we were travelling the world.

“She is nine now and will adjust to anything, and I think that is something to do what she was doing at such a young age.

‘Nothing is perfect’ – dealing with life on tour

Clijsters took daughter Jada for a walk in her buggy in New York’s Central Park on the morning of the 2009 US Open final – she beat Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki on Arthur Ashe Stadium later that day, and successfully defended her title the following year.

Clijsters: “With Jada, it was so hectic in the beginning for us with the media at tournaments that I just tried to keep her away from it.

“When I won the US Open in 2009, she hardly ever came out to Flushing Meadows. She came for the final and was able to sit in one of the boxes upstairs, and that was it.

“That day I had delayed her nap time a little bit, so she was able to stay up a bit later for the final.

Jada was back on Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2010 after her mum successfully defended her US Open title

“Sometimes things happen and you just have to juggle your routine. I have three children now and it is still the same. There are always different challenges but that is the great thing about being a mum.

“For me I love that everything is not perfect. When we lie in bed or sit on the couch, my husband and I can talk and laugh sometimes and say ‘what happened today? It was chaos all over’.

“It was the same on the tour too. Sometimes we would stay in hotels and would not know how the rooms would be divided – we would ask for an extra room, but it would be on a different floor.

“We did not just throw money at the problem because that was not the way I was brought up – we tried to figure it out ourselves. Sometimes Jada even slept in a walk-in closet because there was nowhere else for her.

“She was a pretty good sleeper, which really helped around my matches.

“The one thing I was worried about was her getting sick because it is easy to deal with that at home but if you are in, say, Thailand I would not know where to go or who to ask.

“But it all went pretty smoothly in the end. She needed some medication from time to time but we have doctors and physios with us on tour so in that sense we were lucky because we had some of the best medical staff and facilities around.”

‘A new perspective – family is important, no trophy comes close’

Clijsters’ children: Jada, cradling eight-month old Blake, and Jack

Clijsters now has three children – Jada, nine, three-year-old Jack and Blake, who is eight months old.

Clijsters: “My husband would be there to watch my matches but if I had to practise, it would just be with my coach and trainer.

“Brian would do something with Jada so their bond is very strong because they have been together so much – it is the same as I had with my father, and I love seeing it with them too.

“But sometimes, as a mother, I felt guilty for leaving Jada behind and me going off to tennis.

“I know I was lucky because I was probably still seeing more of her than most mums but I also wanted to spend time with her wherever we were.

“I remember when she went to the zoo and held a koala bear before the Australian Open. There were a lot of times like that, when I wanted to be a part of it.

“So it was hard but I still wanted to keep my tennis separate. It was my work, and then her free time was different.

“Then I could come back to the hotel room to come back to her, and leave my working life behind.

Victoria Azarenka reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2011 and 2012 but took a year off the tour to have son Leo

“It was hard sometimes but you make it work. I spoke to Victoria on the Wimbledon practice courts this week and we talked about what we did when we didn’t have kids on tour.

“What do you do? You just lay around – you rest in your bed, you read a book or you watch a movie, or you catch some tennis on TV.

“That it is so useless – life now is far more meaningful.

“I don’t want to sound disrespectful to the sport but becoming a parent gives you a totally different perspective and, at the end of the day, nobody cares about whatever you did in sport.

“It is your family and kids that are important – and bringing them up the right way. No trophy even comes close.”

Kim Clijsters worked with fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer at the 2016 Australian Open and has linked up with her at this year’s Wimbledon too

Playing career over – but still a busy mum

Clijsters, 34, retired in 2012 and now runs a tennis academy in her hometown of Bree in Belgium. She is working as a co-commentator for BBC Sport at Wimbledon 2017 and also working with Belgian player Yanina Wickmayer, who lost in round two on Thursday.

Clijsters: “I love being here but I cannot watch this much tennis when I am in Belgium. I have a tennis school, and I am busy with the kids.

“My husband is American so I have to deal with all the school stuff because it is in Flemish and he can’t help. When I was in Paris for the French Open I noticed there was some slacking off in Jada’s homework – it was down to me to put that right!

“Brian coaches basketball and his season has just finished so he is not around that much, so everything from when we wake up until about 8.30pm when the boys go to sleep falls on me.

“That is fine because it is very satisfying knowing that everything went well. It is draining but when they are in bed I am like ‘aaah, done – now I have to clean the kitchen’.”

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