SPORTS

At Olympics, Clijsters has a new experience after 15 years on the tour

07/27/2012 09:05 EDT | Updated 09/26/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - Thanks to the Olympics, veteran Kim Clijsters is experiencing a new side of tennis ahead of retirement this year.

The Belgian is playing in the games for the first time, and she said Friday that dressing the same as her teammates, travelling with them on a train and carrying a backpack are a reminder of childhood.

"You kind of feel like you're going on a school trip," Clijsters said at Wimbledon, which is hosting the event just a few weeks after the end of the Grand Slam tournament. "It was fun and it was exciting, after being on tour for 15 years, to have a new experience like this."

Former No. 1 Clijsters will retire after the U.S. Open, which she has won three times. Clijsters missed the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, and was in a two-year retirement in which she gave birth during the 2008 games in Beijing.

"I look forward to getting to feel what the Olympic atmosphere is like," Clijsters said. "''I'm not really thinking about retirement until I've come to that point. I'm still here because I want to do well and I want to play good tennis."

Clijsters, who plays her first-round match Saturday against Roberta Vinci of Italy, has twice reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and lost to Angelique Kerber of Germany in the fourth round at the All England Club this year.

"My movement feels a lot more secure on hard courts. I think, for a lot of players, that's the case," she said. "But I enjoy playing on grass. I enjoy the speed of the court as well."

She spoke at a news conference where she was flanked by Belgian teammates Oliver Rochus, Yanina Wickmayer, David Goffin and Steve Darcis.

At Wimbledon a month ago, Clijsters, 29, described her excitement at the thought of playing in the Olympics, and in the most storied venue of the sport.

"It's such a special place to be playing tennis at," Clijsters said at the time. "It's going to be a little bit different. I got my outfit sent to me. I saw the red skirt. I was like: 'Red skirt at Wimbledon?'"

"I think besides my personal kind of goal, what I look forward to is following the other Belgian athletes, trying to stick around and trying to support all the other Belgian athletes," she said. "We don't get to play a team sport, but when we play the Olympics, besides your individual goal, you feel like a team."

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