Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't think twice about a player like Kim Clijsters. You know the overly pleasant, accommodating, quiet type. The "nice" girl who doesn't make waves or rock the boat. No, I usually like a little flash and pizzazz with champions, especially in a sport such as tennis, where the matches can be a bit tedious, forcing you to scramble for the remote in between points.
Nevertheless, this year the courtside melodrama took a backseat to a more refined approach to winning as Clijsters returned from career threatening injuries and personal issues to elegantly tear through the WTA tour and finally get that Grand Slam monkey off of her back. Her quiet perseverance and ferociousness as a champion now has me screaming, "Sportsman, Sportsman!"
Indeed, in an era in which women's tennis has turned into an episode of America's Next Top Model,it is easy to overlook a player like Clijsters. She doesn't come to court to show off her latest fashion line or diamond baubles. She doesn't arrive with a 20-person entourage that takes over the players' box. She doesn't indulge in cat fights or name-calling or diva-like stares across the court. She's just Little Kimmy, the resident good girl who minds her business and comes to play.
After a heartbreaking 2004 season, in which she suffered a slew of injuries, Clijsters returned to the tour last spring with a healed wrist, a new attitude and a little more pep in her step. By August, Clijsters had a 26-match winning streak and entered the U.S. Open confident. Then she defeated Venus Williams in the quarterfinals after losing the first set and being down a break in the second. In the next round, she hardly seemed rattled after squandering five match points against Maria Sharapova before winning the match. Before the Open final against Mary Pierce, I looked at Clijsters and thought, "Is sweet Little Kimmy going to cave in again and blow another Slam championship?"
The answer was a resounding no. Clijsters routed Pierce, 6-3, 6-1, to finally break her Grand Slam jinx. And if that wasn't enough, Clijsters took home the biggest winner's purse in the history of women's tennis. By virtue of having won the U.S. Open Series, the 22-year-old was playing for double the prize money and pocketed $2.2 million. Not bad for the resident good girl.
Moreover, she finished second to Lindsay Davenport for the 2005 world's No. 1 ranking. All this from the sweet, reticent Clijsters, no flash or climactic performances needed. Now that's a Sportsman.
React: Who's your Sportsman of the Year?
Sports Illustrated will announce the 2005 Sportsman of the Year winner on Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Check back every weekday until then to read more Sportsman picks from SI writers.