It was a club that had been in existence for 30 years before the former world No.1 decided to take the plunge and buy it in 2012.
“I knew that this place had been up for sale for many years, they approached me when I was 20 years old, but was not the right time,” says Clijsters. “I still wanted to focus on my career without having the worries of a big centre. So as I got older, the idea kind of stuck with me.”
When Clijsters retired for the second time as a player in 2012 she set about transforming the existing club and making it into a world class facility. “I wanted to bring everything that I have learned over my career under one roof,” she explains.
“If you want to be a professional tennis player or you have goals to be a better tennis player you can find everything here.” That includes coaches, fitness trainers, dieticians, osteopaths, physiotherapists, mental coaches as well as facilities for fitness and biomechanics testing.
It is perhaps not surprising that Clijsters, who had a reputation as one of the nicest people on tour, is still working with many of the people who helped her during her playing career. Sam Verslegers, her fitness coach and osteopath, oversees all of the therapists at the Academy. He operates his private practice out of the site as well as providing services to players at the academy. Carl Maes, Clijsters’ coach of ten years, is the Academy Director.
“I feel very happy that I am still able to work with people that I worked with and people who have worked at the highest level and who are very passionate about the sport and who want to help and improve the kids whether they train two times a week or whether they train every day,” she said.
The Kim Clijsters Academy, with eight indoor and 10 outdoor clay courts, re-opened to players in April 2014 and not only has the former world No.1 put her name to it, but she is actively involved in player development.
“I’m here a few hours every day,” she said, “each week is different because I also have other things to do, like charity things. There are weeks when it is four or five hours a day. I go home when school finishes so I can spend time with my kids. I try to be here from 9 o’clock until about 3pm.”
Daughter Jada is now seven and son Jack recently celebrated his second birthday, and with the academy just a seven-minute drive from her home, it’s an easy commute for Clijsters.
“I hit with the players, particularly the young girls when they want a higher intensity,” she says, “I like to be on court with the players and be in the gym and look at what they are doing.” And it’s not only personal technical tennis development she offers. “There are girls who talk to me about personal things, issues with parents, a bunch of stuff and it’s nice to be there for them,” she said.
Clijsters’ personality and vision for the academy has inevitably shaped its culture and values.
“We have a unique product,” says Clijsters. “It is very personal. The approach is very individual. The players here won't feel like they are a number. I have always said that is really important. The quality needs to be very high.”
But it has been a steep learning curve for the three-time US Open champion, and not just from changing perspective from player to coach. “There are other things further away from what I am used to – the business side of things, trying to make everything work and that is definitely a learning process,” she says. “I enjoy it. It is something that makes you better.
“Luckily I have good people surrounding me who can help me and advise me.”
Clijsters says in the coming months she will be working with some of her sponsors to drive the commercial needs of the academy. She also has a commitment to making the facilities available to players who are financially unable to travel. For this reason she recently launched Ten4Kim. “We are looking for sponsors to help with that project,” she says.
This is a tennis academy with a big heart as well as a big vision.
“I love the personal approach with the kids. I feel like they listen, they really work hard, that’s what I enjoy, knowing that I can make a little difference,” said Clijsters. “With the whole crew we can make a difference for the players. That is a very rewarding feeling.”
NEXT UP..…a player’s view: “It is such an inspiration to see Kim Clijsters, who a lot of young players look up to. It motivates me to work as hard as I can.” (British teenager Erika Dodridge)