Kim Clijsters
Photo: Simon Fowler
As 2009 began, the ex-tennis champ was out of shape, caring full-time for her baby daughter, and mourning the death of her dad. Nine months later, she bested Serena Williams at the U.S. Open semifinals and became the first mother to win the trophy since 1980. Here, the 27-year-old talks peppermint, perfectionism, and why she'll take Ms. Williams over an easier opponent any day.
1. It's okay to change your mind. When I retired in 2007, I'd had it. I'd been in the spotlight since my teens; I'd met my husband and was ready to start a family in Belgium. I thought, "I'm a woman now!" But after my father passed away, I began playing tennis again, just to get a mental escape for an hour or two. I wondered, "Do I still have that competitiveness in me?" I called my fitness coach and he said, "We have a lot of work to do!"

2. Your body is always telling you something. You just have to pay attention. Almonds, cashews, ginger and peppermint give me a boost; a cheese sandwich will taste good, but I'll feel tired an hour later.

3. People are mirrors of their dogs. Sometimes I feel like my Great Dane, who has so much energy he doesn't know what to do with it. But I've learned how to be lazy on the couch once in a while, which comes naturally to my English bulldogs. They never get stressed.

4. There's no such thing as a perfect match. My parents taught me that. Every professional athlete is something of a perfectionist, but it's how you cope with the imperfect matches that makes you great.

5. The hardest tests are the best. It's nice to win 6-1, 6-0, but there's nothing better than when it's 5-all in the third set and nobody knows who will prevail. Serena Williams is the toughest competitor I've ever faced, but I've enjoyed those matches the most. She makes me play above myself.

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