In September, former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters announced she was making her second comeback to professional tennis.
Prior to her first match back she explained to the media in Dubai, “I have expectations. I don’t think they’re the expectations [people] would like to hear from me. They’re not result related or ranking related. They’re more individually for myself,” Clijsters said.
“It’s getting a feeling of how I want to play out there,” she added. “That’s the expectation or the goal I’m trying to get to. I have moments now where in practice, ‘This is it, this is how I want to play.’ I just have to be able to do it in matches now.
“We’ll see if I’m capable of doing that. I’m sure it will take time.”
Clijsters first left tennis in 2007 at the age of 23 as she struggled to overcome chronic injuries. During her two years in retirement her first child Jada was born.
A gala doubles match at Wimbledon to test the Centre Court roof led to Clijsters’s decision to resume her tennis career. Her return to the tour led to consecutive US Open victories before she retired again in 2012.
Last year Clijsters was invited to play Venus Williams in another roof-testing exhibition match at Wimbledon, this time on Court 1. Her form in the match caused Clijsters to imagine her current comeback.
“It was a feeling that I had inside for a little while. Kind of talked to a few people. Once in a while that feeling would go away when I was home with the kids. A couple times it would come back. It got stronger and stronger.
“I talked to my husband. He was like, ‘Why not? Stop worrying about why and ask yourself why not.’ He made a very good point. I was like, All right. Yeah, why not?”
Now Clijsters is a 36 year old mother of three; the winner of 41 titles including four slams and $24,442,340 prize money, with a career win/loss of 523/127.
The ITF required Clijsters to submit to six drug tests before her return to competition.
To prepare her for this comeback, Clijsters was fortunate to secure Simona Halep as a practice partner. She admits that the process of getting back to professional match fitness has been a challenge. “I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I’ve enjoyed it since the day I’ve decided to go for it. It’s been with ups and downs.”
After having to skip the Australian Open in January due to an injury at training, the unranked Clijsters returned for her first match in seven years at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
As her first round opponent she drew No. 9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, playing her first match since the Australian Open final.
Clijsters was a little rusty finding her way to the court. She led Muguruza down the tunnel and was about to head through a set of doors when someone called out to her. She stopped, turned the other way and then noticed the open entrance to the court.
Before the biggest round one crowd, Clijsters served first and won her first point back through Muguruza hitting long. At 0-2 15-15, after winning a rally of angles, Clijsters dared to let out her first “C’mon!”. With good serving she won that game for 1-2.
The first set was more entertaining than the scoreline of 6-2 to Muguruza suggests. Some great ball striking came from Clijsters’s forehand and she fought all the way as the crowd willed her on.
The second set began ominously for Clijsters. She struggled with double faults and Muguruza went up 3-0. But Clijsters lifted her aggression at the same time Muguruza started serving poorly and made many unforced errors, levelling the set at 4-4. After Clijsters went ahead 6-5, Muguruza’s great serving returned and she hit the lines with precision groundstrokes to force a tiebreak.
The tiebreak was a thriller that ended at 8-6. Muguruza opened with an error and a double fault before winning the next three points and then a fourth with a wonderful cross-court forehand to go 4-2. Clijsters got it to 5-5 but Muguruza served an ace to bring up her first match point. An error lost her that opportunity.
At 6-6 the players were so engrossed in the match they forgot to change ends until prompted by the umpire. Clijsters sent a lob long before Muguruza took the match with an unreturnable serve.
After shaking hands at the net, Muguruza acknowledged the crowd but spent far longer applauding the efforts of Clijsters.
Following Dubai, Clijsters was granted wildcards to enter two further tournaments in 2020.
In the WTA 250 Abierto GNP Seguros in Mexico where she lost to Johanna Konta in the first round, 3-6 5-7.
The final match in her comeback was the first round of the US Open. She lost 6-3 5-7 1-6 to 21st seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Afterwards, Clijsters needed knee surgery to repair the damage she’d sustained during her career.
Then in January 2021, she caught Covid-19 which hampered her training and meant she was unable to accept wildcards at Miami and Charleston.
On 12 April 2022, Kim Clijsters posted the news of her final retirement on Instagram.
Due to the pandemic making international travel so difficult and the setback of a knee injury, Clijsters managed only five matches in her final comeback. Although she didn’t manage to win any of them, three went to a third set. Clijsters told the WTA that she has no interest in coaching on the tour and will focus on managing the Kim Clijsters Academy in Belgium and encouraging her eldest daughter Jada’s basketball career.