As a heavyweight promotion, the March 1 rematch between Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams at Madison Square Garden is loaded with potential pyrotechnics. They will face each other for the first time since last summer's U.S. Open semifinal, when Williams turned an untimely foot-fault call into a meltdown that ultimately cost her more than $80,000 in fines, probation and widespread criticism.
But Clijsters, whose 2009 Open title completed a striking comeback from a two-year sabbatical, assured by teleconference from her home in Belgium Tuesday that the incident no longer was visible in her rearview mirror. Furthermore, she said she considers Williams "one of the funnest and coolest athletes" on the pro tour.
During a pre-Australian Open event, arranged by Roger Federer that raised more than $200,000 for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Clijsters said she and Williams not only participated in doubles and mixed doubles but also spent time on the sidelines "watching the men play, chatting away, having some fun conversation."
What happened at Flushing Meadows in September, when Williams' reaction to the foot-fault call against her with a raging fit that included the offer to shove a ball down a lineswoman's throat, "overpowered the ending" of a match in which "both of us played an extremely good match," Clijsters said.
"But it's something I really don't think about . . . We're all human and we all take what we do very seriously. I'm not saying I agree with what she did, but it happens. I hope we can bring the level we had at the Open to Madison Square Garden."
In the one-night March 1 mini-tournament, they are paired in a single-set semifinal to set up a best-of-three championship final later in the evening against the winner of a Venus Williams-Svetlana Kuznetsova semi. This is a reprise of last year's event in which Serena defeated Venus in the final.
For Clijsters, playing Williams is a "perfect" tuneup for the Indian Wells, Calif., tournament a week later.
Meanwhile, Clijsters made it clear that there are no bad feelings. "When you see her, even in the locker room, she is so relaxed," Clijsters said of Williams. "A lot of girls are very into their own, but a few like to have a really good time, and Serena is definitely one of those.
"She's a girl who likes to have fun. She takes tennis very seriously, and we all do. But the other side to tennis is the fun side, and she's always up for a good joke. That's something I've always admired about her."