Call it the Golden-Sunshine Double, with one half in the Golden State of California and the other in the Sunshine State of Florida. If that makes it sound like a pleasant, sun-buttered jaunt across America, don't be misled; crossing the States with a tennis racquet can be brutal. Though she had never thought about her victories in this way before, Kim Clijsters readily agreed with the analysis that doing the Indian Wells-Miami double had been among the greatest accomplishments of her tennis life (or, for accuracy, given she retired and then unretired, of her two tennis lives).
It's now almost 10 years since any WTA athlete won the title in the Californian desert and then flew across United States to also rip through a draw-sheet in Florida, with that last double coming with the Belgian's victories in 2005. Before Clijsters, you have to spool all the way back to Steffi Graf in the mid-1990s. "There are a number of difficulties facing anyone with ambitions of holding up trophies in both the Coachella Valley and on Key Biscayne," Clijsters said in an interview with wtatennis.com, "and the most obvious thing is the longevity of the trip. You're hoping to play four weeks in a row, and that's the biggest challenge of the trip," disclosed the former World No.1, who in 2005 beat Lindsay Davenport in the Indian Wells final and then Maria Sharapova in the Miami title match. "It's a very long trip, and you've got to try to create the same feeling as if you are playing a Grand Slam. You're playing one day, then one day off, then one day, then one day off, and so on. It's a long trip. You've got to stay really focused."
So if you manage to achieve the first half of the double, with success at the BNP Paribas Open, you must immediately refocus your energies and attentions on your opening match at the Sony Open; you certainly can't celebrate your first title in the middle of the trip. "I had learned from experience that, after winning one tournament, there's a danger that you will lose your focus at your next one," Clijsters recalled. "That's something that I used on that long Indian Wells-Miami trip, because after that Indian Wells final you're immediately into your next tournament in Miami. This is different to other trips. After I won the US Open, I didn't care about doing my cool-down afterwards, or stretching, and that's because you feel that you're done. But on that Indian Wells-Miami trip, you have to think that after Indian Wells you're going to be playing again very soon in Miami, and so any celebrations will have to come after the trip, and not between tournaments."
What's so disagreeable, you might think, about travelling from the Golden State to the Sunshine State; but professional tennis players aren't tourists. And anyone hoping to do the double has to master the different playing conditions, going from the dry heat of the Californian desert to the muggy heat of the Florida Keys. "The conditions are extremely different. I remember every time I took the plane from Indian Wells to Miami, and then stepped off the plane for that first practice, I struggled with my breathing a lot more, as it's just so much more humid in Miami. It always took me a couple of days to get used to the conditions. I remember one year in Miami, being really out of breath during my first couple of matches," Clijsters said.
"When I was playing, the courts in Indian Wells and in Miami were different speeds, but not to the extent that it was a factor that you had to really worry about too much. You were still playing on hard courts. You can also get extreme conditions at the two tournaments. I remember playing on very windy days in Miami, but in Indian Wells you can get sandstorms. It wasn't so much about the change in temperature from Indian Wells to Miami, as they were probably just as hot as each other, but about how those temperatures felt - the humidity in Miami made it feel so much heavier."
Mark Hodgkinson is a tennis author and journalist based in London. He is currently working on 'The Secrets of The Locker Room', which will be published by Bloomsbury in 2015.