Kim Clijsters has told Eurosport that Roger Federer is the “closest thing to the perfect tennis player” ahead of the 41-year-old’s retirement this week.
Federer will call time on his glittering career after the Laver Cup, which is live on Eurosport and discovery+.
Reflecting on the Swiss’ time on tour, Clijsters spoke about her first memory of Federer, the qualities that saw him emerge in the post-Pete Sampras era, and also her most cherished moment with a player she says is among the greatest of all time – although the Belgian is not a fan of the “GOAT” debate.
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“I don't think by numbers that if somebody has a Slam more or not, it's not that black and white,” Clijsters told Eurosport. “To me, Roger is the overall package of elegance and technique and style.
“He is the GOAT, but you know Rafa [Nadal] to me is also the GOAT, there doesn't have to be one GOAT, right? I respect them all in so many different ways. Roger was by far to me the first one where I was like, this is incredible, this is the closest thing to the perfect tennis player I think you can get.
“I don't think in GOAT terms, I hate when I hear discussions about basketball in my house, it's always like is it Michael Jordan? Or is it LeBron James? I'm like, can you please stop this? There's no way to compare, times change, the world changes. So yeah, I stay out of the GOAT conversations.”
Clijsters also believes Federer’s retirement will have his Laver Cup team-mates and legendary rivals Nadal and Novak Djokovic thinking about their own careers.
“For sure, I also think it will make them think about their retirement a little more, because one of the three has decided 'Okay, this is it for me, I'm stepping away from this', and it does make you think about it,” she added.
“They're all human, we've talked about Rafa for a while about is he going to quit, how much longer is he going to keep going, so it will create different thoughts and different ideas for all those players. The fact that they can compete together is incredible.”

‘The funny guy!’ Clijsters’ first Federer memory…

"I remember as a junior, I think we were playing in Japan. I was young. I think I was 14 or so. But I remember going to watch a country against country competition.
“We all wanted to go watch Switzerland play because Roger was just, besides the fact that he was a good tennis player then already, he was just so much fun to watch, because it was so entertaining to see him get into it.

Kim Clijsters with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal back in 2010

Image credit: Getty Images

“Positive and negative, right? He had them both. He could be so pumped up but then at the same time, he could get so negative and so it was just so much fun to watch him and I remember like, 'Hey, let's go watch Switzerland play because that guy's playing... the funny guy's playing'. So I remember that as a kid, that was really funny.
“I didn't know him personally then and then when you start to when you get older, and I got on tour, and it was exciting to kind of interact and also when he started dating Mirka, who I knew a little bit from being on our women's tour, and to see them as a family grow, you know, from boyfriend, girlfriend to husband and wife, and parents. It's really a beautiful thing to see. To see that grow for so many years on tour.”

On sweeping up the post-Sampras era…

"I don't think anybody really expected it. I remember when Pete Sampras played his last Wimbledon I remember I was sitting in the players area on top of Court 2 at the time, and when he played his last match there I remember the interviews, all the broadcasts saying, 'Nobody's going to be able to beat what he's done and nobody is going to be able to even come close to what he's done because this is so legendary'.

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"And then right away, there's already a guy waiting, and so I don't think anybody really expected it because it was such an incredible record to beat.
"To see what he's done, and the way that he's carried himself through it all, and the way that he grew and became this incredible elegant tennis player on and off the court. Very funny, it's so great. And again, it is sad, right? It is sad to see him retire but at the same time you feel so lucky to have been able to witness it.
"I feel really lucky that I've been able to sit up close on courts where he's been playing finals against Rafa and big moments in tennis history."

Reaching the top…

“There's definitely pressure that comes from the outside. I feel like when you're young, you're able to kind of block it out a little bit, but it takes time for your own belief to fall into place. You have to be mentally ready for it, you have to be physically ready for it.

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“You have to be, tennis-wise, ready for it. In my personal experience, it took time for me to get to that stage to win my first Grand Slam. I can imagine that's what it's like for a lot of other players. You can't become a player like Roger Federer unless everything falls into place and you listen to how you want things to be and how you want to evolve and you want to keep learning and you don't get distracted about the lifestyle that gets presented to you outside of tennis.
“You can't just switch it on and off. You can't just switch it on and be like 'Oh, now I'm gonna be a professional tennis player'. It's a lifestyle that you and your team and your family have to live with.”

Clijsters: The one Federer memory I cherish…

“There is a moment, to me, by far the most human and painful experience, but beautiful at the same time, was when Switzerland played Davis Cup in Australia. And it was after his coach Peter Carter passed away.

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“And I think Peter Carter's parents were going to be in the arena for the first time. It was an incredible moment. I was dating Lleyton [Hewitt] at the time, and just to see the friendship, the family, the tennis family come together in such a painful situation, Roger being there, and having the Australian Davis Cup team there.
“Just before they even went out on the court, just to see them kind of share this human, very human experience, but then literally walk out and compete for their country. That to me is probably my most intense [memory], and besides all the great things that he's done on the tennis court and the great matches that I've seen him win on TV and in person, it's the human side of it, the emotions, he earned the respect of the people that have meant so much to him.
“I love the fact that he cries after he won big moments and big matches and his speeches. Those will by far be my favourite Roger Federer moments, besides all the beautiful tennis matches that he's played. I think it's the human side of it, the personal touches to everything that he's done is what I will appreciate and explain to my kids.”
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