(16 JAN.) It was far from easy but Kim has succesfully started the defence of her Australian Open title by defeating the young Portuguese Maria Joao Koehler in straight sets, 7-5 6-1.
Koehler was making her Grand Slam debut but did not seem spooked as she chatted away merrily with Kim as the pair walked through the corridors underneath Rod Laver Arena before stepping out into the sunshine.
When play began, Koehler kept Kim deep and ventured to the net more often than her opponent, mixing it up so much she had the Belgian strangled at 5-5 in the first set, with 15 unforced errors.
But after a long stare at her supporters' box during the break, Kim came out and raced to 3-0 and then 4-1. She was serving at 5-1 with two match points up her sleeve before the young Portuguese fell on her sword by hitting a wild return on the first.
'Good nerves. I had that excitement', Kim said. 'I wanted to go out there and I wanted to start playing. I've had that ever since we came to Australia. I had a good off‑season where we worked obviously to try to be in good shape for Australia, then you want to put that to the test and play those matches again.'
Kim, who won her first Australian title last year when she bested China’s Li Na in three sets for the title, is not one to become incredibly emotional before she accomplishes a task. But when she went to her first practice session on Laver, she did get some warm and fuzzy feelings. 'I remember walking through the corridor before the final, the atmosphere of that final day of a Grand Slam, there's a different vibe', she said. 'Not a lot of players were here yet. It was nice to experience a lot of those emotions, really take my time to take it all in.'
The qualifier Koehler did show off a powerful forehand and she moved pretty well, but Kim remains one of other WTA’s fastest players and can go from defense to offense in a heartbeat. She finished the contest with 10 winners and forced her foe into 27 errors, while the 19-year-old Portuguese threw in 32 unforced errors of her own. Clijsters’ coach and trainer had scouted her foe on a cold and windy final day during qualifying, so at least she had some idea about what was ahead.
Despite her recent injury, Kim was not afraid to go all out. 'I have never played a tournament without going 100 per cent in practice beforehand, so I kind of have to get over that fear in the beginning', she said. 'Especially with my stomach muscle, that was probably one of the worst ones. I felt scared hitting the smash and the serve. But gradually you get over that. But after the injury in Brisbane, I didn't feel like it was in my head where I felt restricted moving‑wise, although I probably should avoid that split a little bit.'
Kim did not have to unleash her full arsenal in her first match, but was pleased she was able to power her serves to the corners, as last year, she struggled with that ultra important stroke. If she reaches the second week of the tournament again, then she will pull out all the tricks in her bulging bag. 'I feel like I'm moving well, I feel like I'm positioning myself well. I think that's something that in the past has always improved when I went on in a Grand Slam. I remember last year I played a good match against Safina, but I had some matches where I wasn't playing some of my best tennis, but always good enough to get through. I don't think anybody plays a Grand Slam playing seven perfect matches. So you have to fight your way through it sometimes and find that little extra on the most important points. Regarding my serve, today I felt like I served well. I served well on the important points. I hit a few aces. I felt like I had a good rhythm out there on my serve. I'm pleased with that.'
In the 2nd round Kim will face the Frenchwoman Stéphanie Foretz Gacon. It will be the first meeting between both players. Their match is scheduled second from an 11am start on Rod Laver Arena, thus sometime around 12.30pm, local time.
(adapted from www.theaustralian.com.au & www.australianopen.com)