NEW YORK (Reuters) - Returning to the scene of her greatest triumphs, Kim Clijsters looked like any ordinary working mom when she strolled into Flushing Meadows on Saturday.
It was kids’ day and the National Tennis Center was packed to the rafters with young families keen to get an early look at the world’s best players practicing before the last grand slam of the year starts on Monday.
If it was not for the camera crews and autograph hunters that followed her every step, Clijsters might easily have been mistaken for any other New Yorker, soaking up the atmosphere and joining in the excitement on a perfect summer’s day.
But Clijsters is more than just another interested spectator. She is the defending women’s champion, she is on a 14-match winning streak in New York and a source of inspiration to millions around the world.
The Belgian had won the title for the first time in 2005 but a wrist injury prevented her from defending her crown. She missed the following two years after taking time out to start a family.
Clijsters finally came back to New York last year and defied incredible odds to win her second title. Her celebrations on the Arthur Ashe center court with her toddler daughter Jada have become one of the enduring images of modern tennis.
But the events of last year have already become a blur to Clijsters. She remembers winning the final and getting her hands on the trophy but not much else.
While her main goal this year is, of course, to win another title, Clijsters is also using her trip to New York to rekindle some of those lost memories.
“Once you come back, you’re like ‘oh hey, that’s right, yeah, we did this’,” she told a news conference on Saturday.
“I remember when I did the ceremony or those things, they’re always there. But it’s the little details that kind of freshen everything up a little bit.”
Clijsters’ ties with the U.S. run deeper than her wins at Flushing Meadows. She is married to an American basketballer, Brian Lynch, who was born in New Jersey but played professionally in Belgium.
The pair own a house in New Jersey and she has endeared herself to the New York population, throwing the first pitch before the Mets’ Major League Baseball game against the Houston Astros on Friday.
She is again one of the favourites to win the U.S. Open this year but says she is not feeling any pressure at all and determined just to enjoy the experience.
“My attitude is not any different compared to last year,” she said.
“Press is a sign why they’re putting you into the spot of maybe one of the favorites. So I’m excited to be back defending my title.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar