Kim Clijsters has been one of the best players on the women’s tour for about ten years now. In 2009 she came back from having a child and won the US Open Championships that year in only her third tournament back on the tennis tour.
She is also well-known for her positive attitude and fair play on the tennis court!
Consistency, Great Defense, And Mental Toughness!
Clijsters was born in 1983 in Belgium. Like so many other professional tennis players, she comes from a sports family. Her dad was a professional soccer player and played for the Belgian national team. Her mom was a national gymnastics champion.
Coming from this kind of background, it is no surprise that Kim Clijsters is such a great competitor!
As a junior tennis player Clijsters was quite successful and the highlight of her junior career was reaching the Wimbledon finals in 1998.Since then she has had a phenomenal professional career.
Her career highlights are four Grand Slam singles titles and 41 overall WTA Tour singles titles.
She won the US Open three times in 2002, 2003, and 2010 as well as the Australian Open in 2011.
Another highlight in her tennis career has been the rivalry with fellow Belgian player Justine Henin. The two played each other 25 times on the tour and Clijsters came out ahead in this rivalry with 13-12 victories. The success of these two players has resulted in a tennis boom in Belgium.
Let’s go ahead and break down Clijster’s game in detail. Kim is known to be one of those players that will get almost every ball back and never give up!
Kim Clijsters has a strong forehand with a rather conservative grip. She puts a lot of pressure on her opponents with those hard flat shots. Her swing is a very classical high to low to high swing. She keeps her head very still throughout the contact zone and uses her body well to generate power.
Kim hitting some great flat forehand winners!
One of the things that make her forehand so dangerous is that she gets really good depth on almost every shot.
Watching her play you can see that she finishes almost every forehand with her elbow and racket up high over her shoulder. This gives her such great depth on her forehands!
There are times when Kim Clijsters gets a bit inconsistent on her forehand though. The reason for this I believe is that she has a rather big loop to her swing. Usually she gets in trouble when opponents start putting pressure on her forehand with hard and flat shots. Her bigger loop then takes too much time and she can end up hitting the ball late.
Overall a very good forehand!
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Kim’s backhand is her strongest shot. I don’t think I have ever seen her have a day where her backhand wasn’t working. She can do pretty much anything with this backhand.
She can hit flat out winners cross-court or down the line, she can hit angles, and she can hit solid topspin cross-court shots from any position on the court.
Her down the line backhand is one of her biggest strengths overall in her game!
From a technical standpoint her backhand is flawless!
She initiates the stroke with a great unit-turn. At the same time she takes the racket up a bit higher than most two-handed players on the backswing. From here on out she uses a great inside-out swing pattern which allows her to really accelerate the shot. Kim keeps a still head around contact similar to how she does it on her forehand.
One thing to note is the great extension she gets on this shot. Her racket moves way out to the target before she pulls it off to the right side!
This makes her balls penetrate the court extremely well.
Like all great tennis strokes she achieves the key body positions at the right moments. This is the key to great tennis shots!
To learn more about the key body positions for great tennis strokes visit the Tennis Video Instruction page on this website!
Kim Clijsters hits a pretty good slice backhand.
She uses her slice mostly in defensive situations and she does a good job at getting those slice shots deep to stay in the rally.
She does tend to open up the racket face a bit too much though on her slice, which results in balls floating and sitting up too much. That is probably the reason that she rarely uses her slice to mix up the pace of the rally.
Kim does not hesitate to come in and finish points at the net. She tends to use a lot of topspin volleys to finish off points and she hits those very well!
Kim hits a pretty good forehand volley. She establishes a good hitting arm structure and moves the racket forward in a pretty straight line. Sometimes she tends to swing too much at the ball with her arm though. This usually begins with a backswing that is slightly too big.
On her backhand volley she has trouble stabilizing the racket head around contact.
From the available video it seems to me that she keeps her grip with the index knuckle on bevel 2.5 for forehand and backhand volleys. This grip is great for forehand volleys but makes backhand volleys very difficult because it opens up the racket face too much. This way she needs to make adjustments with her wrist and the whole stroke becomes unstable.
I think she could work on making a very slight grip change to bevel number 2 for her backhand volley and easily improve this shot!
Kim Clijsters has a solid serve. She can put pressure on her opponents and get some free points with it but she can not really dominate service games with her serve.
Looking at her serve you can see that she does have a very fluid arm action which is one of the key characteristics of a good serve!
Her racket does not stop at the top of the backswing. She also comes to contact with the racket on edge. This is necessary in order to use pronation corretly.
Like so many female professional players, Kim does not really incorporate the shoulder turn away from the target into her service motion though.
A line through her shoulders would be parallel to the sidelines. Great servers turn their shoulders more and the shoulders would point roughly to the right net post at the end of the backswing.
The shoulder turn away from the target results in what is called a separation angle between hips and shoulders. This is an additional segment that Kim could use on her serve to generate more power.
Even though she can hit very powerful shots, Kim’s game is not the power game that is so typical in women’s tennis these days!
Instead she mixes up the pace quite a bit. She can hit anything from outright flat winners to loopy moonballs whatever the situation demands.
Clijsters understands that if you move well and do not make unforced errors you are very hard to beat no matter what level of play!
She knows when to go for shots and when to play more cautious. She does not go for the lines much unless she is in an offensive position inside the court.
Another one of her strengths is that she transitions well from defense to offense. She can neutralize from defensive positions and jump on the next ball to get on offense again.
Clijsters is very smart at using high balls from defensive positions. That way she capitalizes on the fact that a lot of her opponents are not comfortable at all taking balls out of the air. Against certain opponents like Serena Williams for example she has to be a lot more careful with those high balls though because Serena will take those balls out of the air relentlessly!
Overall Clijsters plays a very smart tactical game that suits her abilities well!
Kim is one of the fittest players that to ever play on the WTA Tour!
Her movement around the court is simply phenomenal and it amazes me over and over again how many balls she gets back!
Moving around the court Kim Clijsters keeps a very low centre of gravity. It requires very strong legs to maintain this position for long periods of time! In addition to those strong legs she also has great balance, keeping her upper body as straight as possible even in difficult situations on the court.
Check out Kim Clijster’s great movement in this training video:
A low centre of gravity and great balance!
Last but not least she has perfected the skill of sliding to get tough balls back on any playing surface. Overall I would say that her fitness level is one of her biggest strengths as a tennis player!
Kim Clijsters is also one of the toughest players on the women’s tour when it comes to the mental game.
Her parents were both high-level athletes and that has most likely helped her a lot in this area of the game.
Clijsters is a true competitor. She plays every point with 100% effort and simply focuses on the process of giving the best possible effort in every moment.
Only very rarely can you see her getting upset on the tennis court and even if she does it is only for a brief moment before she focuses on the next point again.
When she does suffer a loss, she does not complain about the circumstances or anything of that nature. I believe that this kind of attitude is one of her biggest strengths and allows her to enjoy the sport so much!
Like most great champions Clijsters is very strong in all four areas of the game. I believe that her competitiveness and her physical fitness are her biggest strengths!
Here is my ranking for Kim Clijsters:
There are only very slight adjustments that I would try to make to Kim’s game.
I think she can definitely improve her serve by turning away from the target more and creating a better separation angle between her hips and her shoulders.
Rafael Nadal has shown us that it is definitely possible to improve your serving technique in those short training periods that the pros have available in between tournaments and Clijsters could do the same in my opinion!
Also Clijsters could improve her net game and her backhand volley in particular. A slight grip change would probably stabilize the backhand volley and overall a better net game would make it easier for her to finish points.