Clijsters favourtite to win the tournament
There are only a certain number of ways to avoid addressing your chances of winning the Australian Open but Kim Clijsters found yet another on Sunday at Melbourne Park.
In the absence of last year's champion Serena Williams and with the 2010 losing finalist Justine Henin returning from injury, the 27-year-old has been deflecting questions about being favourite to win a fourth major crown all week.
Defeat in the final of the Sydney International warm-up to China's Li Na on Friday has not diminished the chatter and the US Open champion was forced onto the back foot again on Sunday.
"I don't think players think like that," she told a news conference.
"I think we just really focus on one match at a time. There can be so many surprises anyway in a Grand Slam. Tough players, new players that you don't expect to be doing well can be on a great run. So many things can happen.
"I really don't want to waste too much energy on what's happening on other parts of the draw or what's being said around us. I think I'll try to just put all that energy into what I'm here for, and that's to try to play good tennis," she said.
Image: Kim Clijsters of Belgium hits a shot during a Rally for Relief match in Melbourne on Sunday
Before the surprise defeat in the final, Clijsters had looked in ominous form in Sydney and she confirmed on Sunday that she had arrived in Melbourne with a clean bill of health.
"I feel good," she said. "No major injuries. I've been able to just work through my pre-season without any big problem, so that's always I think a very important part of your preparation, especially when you come here in Melbourne," she added.
A semi-finalist in 2006 and 2007 before her two-year sabbatical from the game, Clijsters was knocked out 6-0, 6-1 in the fourth round by Russian Nadia Petrova last year on her first return after her comeback.
Seeded third this year, she faces another dangerous Russian in former world number one Dinara Safina in the first round and is not anticipating an easy ride.
"It's never easy anyway to start the first round. You always have to get back into the tournament," said Clijsters, who has a 7-2 record against Safina.
"But I've played some good matches against her since I started again. I've lost to her also once I think in Cincinnati when I played my first tournament back.
"It's going to be an interesting match. Looking forward to playing her again. But it's a tough one," she added.
Image: Nadia Petrova
'It's always nice to feel welcomed and supported'
Clijsters' first victory over the then 17-year-old Safina came in the third round of the 2004 Australian Open when she proceeded to her only final at Melbourne Park before losing to compatriot Henin.
Back then, Clijsters was dubbed "Aussie Kim" because of her romance with Australian Lleyton Hewitt and she remains a crowd favourite in Melbourne despite the relationship having long ended.
"It's obviously always nice to feel welcomed and supported," she said.
"But obviously once I'm out playing, you kind of go into that bubble and you don't focus on it too much," she added.
Image: Kim Clijsters