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Tennis supermum Clijsters finds recipe for success

By Sam Sheringham, for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kim Clijsters talks to CNN's Open Court about juggling professional tennis and motherhood
  • Clijsters won 2009 U.S. Open, 18 months after the birth of daughter Jada
  • Clijsters travels on tour with nanny and prepares food for Jada in hotel rooms
  • Her U.S. Open defense begins August 30 at Flushing Meadows, New York

(CNN) -- Combining motherhood with a full-time job is a notoriously difficult task but try telling that to Kim Clijsters.

The Belgian tennis star became one of the most famous working mums on the planet last year when she came out of retirement and won the U.S. Open in only her third tournament back.

She was the first mother to win a grand slam title for 29 years and the pictures of Clijsters collecting the trophy with 18-month-old daughter Jada in her arms were beamed around the world.

One year on, Clijsters is about to complete her first full season back on the professional tour, with the defense of her U.S. Open title beginning on August 30.

And in an interview with CNN's Open Court program, the 27-year-old offered an insight into what life is like as a globe-trotting tennis player with a two-year-old in tow.

I started practising and it felt like every day it started get a little bit better and that hunger and motivation came back
--Kim Clijsters
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"It's definitely a lot more busy," she said. "In the past, whenever I was done with practicing or massage or treatment or working out, I had all the time to myself and now I'm sharing that with Jada.

"But it's a pleasure having her around and I wouldn't change it for the world."

Clijsters says she tends to get practice done early in the morning before settling down to breakfast with Jada. She employs a nanny who travels around with her on tour along with plenty of baby-related paraphernalia.

"We travel with a 'Babycook' - it's a little steamer and a grinder and so the first thing we do is try to find an organic store or food store and just buy all our groceries," said Clijsters. "Then we ask the hotel to put in a little fridge or empty out the mini-bar to put all the food in there and we try to make most of her food ourselves."

Clijsters, a former world number one, quit tennis in May 2007 and got married to American basketball player Brian Lynch two months later. She gave birth to Jada in February 2008.

Her decision to return to professional tennis was inspired by an invitation to play in a Wimbledon gala event in May 2009.

"I started practicing and it felt like every day it started get a little bit better and that hunger and motivation came back," she said.

"I didn't tell anybody for the first few days because I was really surprised myself by how much I was enjoying playing tennis. I spoke to Brian first and he said 'talk to your coach, train and see how it goes.'

"It was a tough decision, but once I made my mind up I was just ready to go from the beginning and I was really motivated to get back into shape."

Clijsters said she took inspiration from American Lindsay Davenport, another former top-ranked player who returned after a year off to have a child, won three of the first four tournaments she entered, and rose to world No.21.

But Davenport's comeback pales into insignificance compared with what Clijsters was about to achieve.

The Belgian was given a wildcard into the U.S Open, the scene of her only previous grand slam triumph in 2005.

Playing some of the best tennis of her career, Clijsters knocked out Venus and Serena Williams before a straight-sets victory over Caroline Wozniacki completed one of the great sporting comebacks.

She was the first wildcard champion in U.S. Open history and the first mother to win a grand slam since Evonne Goolagong took the Wimbledon crown in 1980.

Now ranked seventh in the world, Clijsters will be among the favorites for this year's U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows, New York, at the end of the month.

But with the Williams sisters and Wozniacki gunning for revenge, and with fellow Belgian comeback queen Justine Henin also finding form, can Clijsters do it again?

"What Kim achieved was unbelievable," former British tennis player Annabel Croft told CNN. "Motherhood appears to have given her a different perspective on life and where tennis fits into it.

"However I think Kim is capable of winning the U.S. Open again but it will be very tough to repeat it with so many other great players in the draw. She will definitely have the crowd behind her. It's going to be a great tournament."

So what does the future hold for our Belgian Supermum? More kids and more titles?

"We would love to have more children but I think for now my goal is to try to make it to the Olympics in London 2012," she said.

"Obviously Jada's going to have to go to school at some point as well, so that's really important to us and I didn't come back to play tennis to put my family situation in a bad situation.

"But as long as it's going well and it's working for us then we'll keep going."