The Practice of a Lifetime
On a cold, clear evening in early March, Kim Clijsters pulled up to New Jersey’s Little Silver Tennis Club to give the Monmouth women’s tennis team the perfect start to its season.
It was also the perfect way to launch Women’s History Month, as the six-time grand slam winner spent two hours hitting with and talking to the team.
“Sitting in Little Silver waiting for Kim Clijsters was very nerve wracking,” said team captain Ann Spurka. “We had no idea what she would be like and were all nervous for the opportunity to hit with her.”
Luckily, the nerves didn’t last too long.
“As soon as she entered, the nerves everyone had were gone,” Spurka added. "We took turns introducing ourselves and shaking her hand, and we all were just amazed at this opportunity given to us. We were all so excited to have her at practice with us and she made it known that she was happy to be there.”
Monmouth Director of Athletics Jeff Stapleton facilitated the experience through a personal connection to Clijsters. After some close matches and tough losses, Coach Murray was excited to hear Clijsters talk tennis with her team — especially regarding the mental side of the sport. Mental toughness is clearly a topic that the former world No. 1 knows a great deal about.
Clijsters’ down-to-earth demeanor impressed junior Zoe Klapman.
“It was unexpected and made her advice all the more impactful,” Klapman said. “While I learned a lot from her that night, her tactics to optimize and conserve mental energy stood out to me.”
Spurka echoed Klapman’s sentiments.
“It was very valuable to be able to see that the challenges that I faced in junior tennis as well as college tennis are also challenges that professional tennis players face,” she said. “With tennis being such an individual sport, a sense of mental strength is needed, and Kim took the time to provide us with methods she uses to maintain her mental strength on court. Kim Clijsters offered not only great advice that is meaningful in the world of tennis but also advice that is beneficial to my everyday life.”
Tennis is, after all, a mental game. Coaches express this sentiment daily, but hearing it from a two-time WTA Player of the Year and eight-time winner of the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award gives it an extra edge. And even while this experience is something the team will cherish, the Hawks are not strangers to having a strong, successful woman by their sides.
Coach Murray enters her 37th season as head coach of the Hawks, and even spent time at Monmouth as a player. Murray was named Best All-Around Athlete four years in a row and is a Hall of Fame inductee at Monmouth. She played on the basketball team (for which she received her scholarship to Monmouth), the tennis team and the softball team.
- Monmouth women's tennis team with Kim Clijsters
- Clijsters sits down on court with team
- Assistant Coach Bob Taylor, Kim Clijsters, & Coach Murray
She frequently looks for ways to challenge her teams and herself. Whether that means adding tougher competition to the schedule or taking her players to historical sites while on the road (such as the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI where Clijsters was inducted in 2017), Murray prides herself on building up her players as individuals as well as athletes.
Sydney DeNardo is in her fifth year at Monmouth which allows her the rare opportunity of playing for Murray for an extra year.
“Playing for Coach Murray the past five years has been an amazing experience,” DeNardo said. “She has given me so many opportunities inside and out of tennis, which is why my Monmouth experience has been so special. She is supportive and wants us to excel in all parts of our lives and has now given us another amazing opportunity by connecting us with Kim Clijsters. She is truly a Monmouth legend.”
Murray’s desire to never stop learning and growing is one of the things that makes her so impressive. Throughout the visit, she just as enthusiastically embraced all Clijsters had to say. When Clijsters spoke about her experience playing Serena Williams in the 2009 US Open semifinal, something stood out for Murray. Clijsters explained how important it was for her in that moment, when the crowd was cheering for Serena, to keep her negative thoughts short.
This mindset helped her win the US Open final that year and make history, becoming the first unseeded player and wild card to win the Open. She also became the first mother to win a major since Evonne Goolagong at the 1980 Wimbledon Championship.
Clijsters also encouraged the Monmouth players to talk positively to themselves, and start over after every point. Her advice is a great reminder for every player on every level.
“We all have negative thoughts,” Clijsters said. “It’s important to keep them short.”