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Clijsters focused on the here and now

TORONTO -- Kim Clijsters was at the supermarket Monday morning in Toronto, when there was a bit of a scuffle over a customer trying to cut in line, saying he was in a rush. Clijsters couldn't understand what the fuss was about. "Let it be -- 10 seconds you have to wait longer," she said. "People get so stressed and nervous and mad."

But that's a little how she felt, too, when her ankle gave way on her for the second time this year. She first hurt it during the spring while dancing at her cousin's wedding and came into the French Open with no match play -- and lost early. Then, playing a warm-up event a couple of weeks later, she twisted it yet another way and had to miss Wimbledon. "It gave me a real negative experience about tennis," she remarked earlier this summer, prompting some questions about whether this latest onset of injuries would hasten her retirement the way it did when she first stopped in 2007.

But she told reporters ahead of the Rogers Cup in Toronto this week that she quickly managed to accept it as one of those things, like disputes at the checkout line. "I think that reaction is a reaction that is there the first couple of days and then the automatic survival instinct comes out and you start rehabbing and training hard and start looking for solutions," she said. "It was just frustrating that another injury happened. You know, when you put so much time and effort trying to get ready for a tournament, whether it's the French Open or Wimbledon, and then with an injury you're not able to do that, it's frustrating because all that hard work you put into it doesn't get used now. But eventually you will still be able to use it and it's another experience and you can learn from it."

Healthy again, she's visibly eager to begin her summer campaign. And why not? The Belgian has been the tour's dominant player on hard courts since returning in 2009, winning three of the four Grand Slam tournaments played on the surface in that time and seven hard-court tournaments overall. After winning the Australian Open earlier this year, she will be going for her third U.S. Open in a row and fourth overall when the final Grand Slam of the year begins in a few weeks' time. Some rust is likely after such a stop-and-start season, but with two tournaments scheduled in the next two weeks, Clijsters is expected to play her way onto the short list of U.S. Open favorites.

"I've been practicing for a while now and physically trying to get in better shape as well after the injuries," she said. "I'm happy I was able to stick through it and was being very disciplined with what I had to do, because I know eventually hard work will pay off. It's only a matter of now just trying to make sure I get matches under my belt and I feel more and more comfortable playing matches."

It could also be her last appearance at what has become a sort of hometown Slam -- husband Brian Lynch is from nearby New Jersey.

For a while, Clijsters has pinpointed next year's Olympics in July as the date when she will likely stop again, but there's a more immediate question: Is she fully committed to keep going until then? "Of course," Clijsters said, firmly.

It's after that she's not sure about. "I'm not saying I'm done after the Olympics, but I think that's where I've so far set my schedule toward and what I'm building toward, and we'll see what happens from there," she said. "I think it's too soon to predict anything after that."

Clijsters insists that results will not affect her decision about when to retire, but though that seems a little unlikely, she knows she wants to pick a tournament that means something special to her and those close to her. "It's more of a personal preference, I think," she said. "[Maybe] will I feel more comfortable saying [goodbye] at the U.S. Open. I've done so well there for so many years, my husband's family is there, you know, we can have a very personal tournament there.

"I might decide to choose to play there somewhere or to end in a smaller tournament, even to have it a little more personal, where I can really enjoy it with my family, my friends, my coaches."

The Belgian was careful not to let her career crowd out personal relationships even early on, and life experiences like losing her father and having daughter Jada during her two-year retirement have given Clijsters added perspective about what is important; a perspective that looks like it will lead to re-retirement in another year or so, but unexpectedly, one that may help her ride out the rough and tumble of the circuit until then.

"It makes you also realize, 'OK, I'm excited to play tennis, and I work really hard to be the best tennis player I think I can be,' but I don't waste my time on stupid stuff, you know what I mean. It's a waste of energy," she said. "When I was younger I used to be devastated if I would lose. And I still am frustrated when I lose, but then I'm able to step aside and [be] like -- you lost this match, why? This, this and this, and how can I solve it -- and kind of see the picture from an outsider's point of view."

With Serena Williams returning to top form and a host of other strong players present, Clijsters will have plenty of challenges during the upcoming stretch of tournaments, but her athletic style -- complete with scrambling splits -- means that injury also remains one of her biggest threats.

"The game is a lot more intense and physically demanding, and that wears and tears on your body," Clijsters said. "And it's not that I've been playing tennis for the last two years; I've been playing tennis at a high level since I'm 6 or 7 years old, so eventually your body will feel the side effects of it. It's only a matter of trying to keep it under control. The offseason is longer now and we have a longer break so I think in that way it's definitely improved a lot. But I guess everybody has different techniques, different ways of moving and some players are more prone to getting injuries than others.

"Unfortunately my strokes aren't as smooth or as easy as Roger Federer's shots."

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.