Clijsters mulls phased retirement

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Kim Clijsters has decided to ease up on her tournament routine to make more time for shopping and nice meals so she can enjoy each city she visits.

Updated: March 30, 2007 17:18 IST
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Key Biscayne:

Kim Clijsters has decided to ease up on her tournament routine to make more time for shopping and nice meals so she can enjoy each city she visits.

The former US Open champion plans to call it quits and focus on family after playing an abbreviated schedule this year.

The latest stop on her farewell tour is Key Biscayne for the Sony Ericsson Open, which began on Wednesday.

Seeded players received a first-round bye, and the number 4-seeded Clijsters will likely play her opening match Friday.

She's among the favourites and optimistic she'll do well, but she plans to have fun regardless. "The relaxing time is not so much focused on my tennis anymore, she said. "My sister and best friend are here, and I'm doing a lot more things.

When I was younger I would always just stay in my hotel room and rest. I didn't want to spend energy to go shopping or something. But that has changed."

Marriage on cards

Plagued by injuries in recent years, Clijsters plans to marry American basketball player Brian Lynch on July 14 in her hometown of Bree, Belgium.

She'll skip the French Open to prepare for the wedding, and she said this week she may miss the US Open because of the honeymoon.

That could make Key Biscayne her biggest remaining US event. She won the title in 2005 and has a favorable draw, with top-seeded Maria Sharapova, three-time champion Serena Williams, three-time champion Venus Williams and defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opposite half.

"I'm definitely not playing these tournaments just to say goodbye," said Clijsters, who won the Sydney title in January.

"Winning in Sydney was a great feeling. Obviously when you can play a tournament for the last time and be there until the last day, that's the perfect scenario.

"I know it's not going to be like that every week. But so far things have been going really well for me this year. I'm not playing that much, but I feel good."

First day winners

Winners on the first day of play included 14-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal, who beat American Meghann Shaughnessy 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3). The teen will next face number 16-seeded Daniela Hantuchova, who won Indian Wells last week.

The Key Biscayne tournament has a new name it was formerly the Nasdaq-100 Open. It also has a new look, with purple courts for a more vibrant appearance.

"I think it's good," said third-seeded Andy Roddick, who plays his opening match on Friday.

"I think it is easier to watch on television, at least. "In men's first-round play, Gael Monfils lost to Simone Bolelli 6-4, 6-2.

On the women's side, Akiko Morigami beat Aleksandra Wozniak 6-1, 7-5 and will play Clijsters in the second round. This is only Clijsters' fourth tournament this year.

Great experience

She won Sydney, lost to Sharapova in the semi-finals at the Australian Open and in her last match in Belgium, lost an emotional final a month ago to Amelie Mauresmo at Antwerp.

"I cried every fluid out of my body," said Clijsters, who nonetheless remembers the experience fondly.

"I couldn't have wished for a better farewell. It was a great experience."Clijsters has always been a good loser, the flip side being she's accused of lacking a killer instinct.

She climbed to the number 1 ranking in 2003 but lost four Grand Slam finals before her breakthrough at the 2005 US Open, where she beat Mary Pierce for the championship.

Clijsters said tournament titles are nice, she has won 34, but now she's more interested in starting a family. She's the oldest of 13 cousins on her mom's side and has always enjoyed babysitting.

"I think at the US Open, the nursery is the most relaxing place to be," she said. "It's so relaxing just to hang out with the children. I feel very comfortable with this decision. I feel it's right."

"That's why she can walk away from a career that allowed her to earn nearly $15 million in prize money. She understands that her many fans might find the decision difficult to accept.

"I know what I want," she said. "But it's funny people are already asking me if I'm thinking about a comeback. I haven't even retired yet."

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