Kim Clijsters overcame an ankle injury and the intense heat to defeat No. 1 Caroline Wozniaki to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open. She made no attempt to make us think this was an easy task. She confessed that stress is just part of playing tennis. “I think the stress, the added stress today was dealing with the heat. I mean, it was to a point where I felt like, this is so hard. The rallies were long. So today it was really tough. I think one of the toughest conditions I’ve ever played in,” Clijsters said.
How do tennis players stay mentally tough in the face of both physical and mental challenges? The top tennis athletes in the world expect, anticipate, prepare, and rely on their experience to carry them past challenges. For Clijsters, tough matches that test her mental and physical stamina are nothing new, “So the stress will always be there. It’s a part of the sport, and the mental game is just so important, as well,” she said.
She used her experience to beat the top ranked player in tennis. Experienced tennis players understand how to continue to fight in stressful conditions. Clijsters can relate to both being overcome by stress and also winning under stress, “You know, experience is something that I definitely have. I’ve been on both sides, you know. I have been on sides where the stress has taken over my game. These last few years I have been really able to cope with it and just try to not let it impact me,” Clijsters said.
Playing through pain, setbacks, and harsh weather conditions is the mark of a high-level athlete. Clijster’s win over Wozniaki showed the importance of having a strong mental game and the ability to perform well in stressful conditions.
She’s learned how to grind out a match even when not playing her best tennis. “You know, even if you’re not playing your best tennis maybe — like I have been in the last couple matches — you always feel like you’re in the match. That’s a good feeling to have. Even if you’re not playing your best or not feeling your best, you’re still capable of winning those matches. That definitely helps with your confidence,” said Clijsters.