London: At first sight the tattoo on the inside of Kim Clijsters’ left wrist does not seem like a sign of how busy life can be for a tennis-playing mother. It reads ‘Jada’ — the name of her first born.
Only problem is Clijsters is now a mother-of-three and by the time her sons Jake and Blake came along, she simply had no time to indulge in getting some more body art inked to her wrist, or anywhere else for that matter.
“I’ve been tattooed out,” the Belgian told Reuters with a laugh as she sat on a balcony overlooking Wimbledon’s Court 14.
So do the boys make an issue of this apparent snub by mum? “They don’t but Jada does. She feels very happy as she thinks she’s the special kid.”
As a curly-haired 18-month-old toddler, Jada melted hearts as she ran around on Arthur Ashe Stadium in September 2009 but her presence also celebrated the fact that Clijsters had just become the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since 1980.
Clijsters went on to lift two more major trophies and she remains the only mother to have claimed any of the four slams over the past 38 years.
However, expectations have been growing that Serena Williams may be about to join that club as she chases a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam crown after returning from a year-long maternity break.
The fact that Clijsters triumphed at Flushing Meadows in only her third tournament back or that in 2008, Lindsay Davenport was winning WTA titles three months after giving birth to her son Jagger Jonathan through an emergency C-section has perhaps skewed expectations about the comeback process.
Aged 26 at the time, Clijsters was a much younger mother on the circuit than the 36-year-old Williams, who is only contesting her fourth tournament after suffering a series of complications during childbirth last September.
“Serena knows what she has to do to get back to her best level. Nobody else knows. Not even [her coach] Patrick [Mouratoglou],” explained Clijsters, who won three of her four slams after the birth of Jada.
“Patrick knows what she has to do to be the best tennis player, her fitness coach knows what she needs to do to get back into the shape she was in before she had her baby.
“But only Serena knows all the details. The mental side of things, nobody can get into your head. That’s only her. She’s so strong to do all those things but it takes time.”
When Clijsters came back, she would often touch base with Davenport, who was part of her support network. She also had access to the WTA’s travelling troop of physiotherapists, massage therapists, medical advisers and psychologists who could help her in whatever way she needed.
With such a wealth of resources available to any player, would Clijsters encourage more women to take career breaks and come back to tennis after starting a family? “You can’t force that. Every player has to figure that out for themselves. I followed my instincts and I quit when I was 24,” said the Belgian, who is an ambassador for the October 21-28 WTA Finals in Singapore.
“If I had listened to a lot of people, they were telling me it was too soon. But to me it felt right. Like it felt right to me to come back.
“There is not one situation that is [the] same for all the players. If there is a player who is 26 and [they] have a very strong motherly instinct… it’s going to be hard to be fully dedicated to your sport.
“I felt guilty for a while after coming back… because I wanted to do this for myself and it felt selfish in a way. But it was okay to be selfish. [Being] selfish often looks like a negative thing but it’s not in a lot of ways.”
Thanks to the blueprint mapped out by Clijsters, today there are at least seven mothers in the top 200 of the WTA rankings.
However, the one thing that has yet to be seen in the professional era is a mother-of-two winning a Grand Slam title, is that possible? “I hope one day we could have that. I’m sure it’s possible,” she said before adding with a laugh: “But I know a third pregnancy is a lot harder than a first pregnancy!”