After seven years away from the game, Kim Clijsters introduced her much-hyped return to skilled tennis in September.
It hasn’t precisely been the comeback 12 months she envisioned.
But regardless of the unprecedented and unpredictable circumstances of the 2020 season, she one way or the other has already has received a title. Following three grueling weeks of play on the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, she and her New York Empire teammates hoisted the King Trophy by claiming the World TeamTennis championship earlier this month.
Not solely that, however the 37-year-old recorded wins over reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 2017 US Open victor Sloane Stephens and Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig in the course of the match run.
“I am actually glad to see her again on the courtroom wholesome and enjoying nicely,” Kenin, who grew up idolizing the Belgian star, mentioned after their match. “I am actually glad that she got here again. It reveals that it would not matter what age you are at, you at all times can come again and do what you do finest. She’s in nice form and enjoying rather well.”
The previous world No. 1 was sidelined in the course of the staff’s remaining matches due to an stomach pressure, which she says is not critical, however she was important within the staff’s early portion of the season and loved her function as coach and cheerleader (and infrequently ball lady) in the course of the title stretch.
Contemplating Clijsters recorded simply two official matches in her comeback earlier than the tour was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March forward of the BNP Paribas Open, it makes what she has been ready to do that summer season all of the extra spectacular. She admits it was odd to simply be beginning to get into the swing of issues solely to have every thing shut down indefinitely, however it did not deter the four-time main champion and mom of three.
“By the point Indian Wells got here round, I used to be actually beginning to hit the ball nicely, and really feel like I used to be attending to be the place I wished to be on the courtroom,” she mentioned not too long ago. “I used to be pondering, ‘That is the kind of tennis I wish to be enjoying’ and actually trying ahead to enjoying there. However then clearly that did not occur. Lots of people began asking me, ‘Are you simply going to retire once more with all of this happening?’
“However the factor is, I do not thoughts going dwelling and coaching and being dwelling with the children. I did surprise how I used to be going to really feel, how I used to be going to remain motivated, however I’ve stayed very dedicated to it and general my focus has been fairly good, surprisingly even. It has been a problem, however I get pleasure from it. I’ve at all times beloved enjoying tennis, and that hasn’t modified.”
Kim Clijsters is trying ahead to enjoying within the Western & Southern Open after which the US Open. Ali Haider/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Clijsters has toyed with the thought of returning through the years however by no means significantly. She walked away from the sport for the primary time in 2007, on the age of 23, following a collection of accidents.
Throughout her hiatus, she acquired married to former skilled basketball participant Brian Lynch and gave start to her daughter, Jada. After two years away, she returned to the tour extra invigorated than ever. In simply the third occasion of her comeback, she received the US Open, turning into the primary unseeded lady ever to win the match and the primary mom to win a serious since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980. She went on to win in New York once more in 2010, in addition to claiming the title on the Australian Open in 2011, however she retired once more in 2012, saying the non-tennis obligations usually turned too overwhelming and she or he felt slowed down with interviews, appearances and sponsorship obligations.
However along with her youngest son approaching college age, it began to appear extra possible. Her urge to play competitively once more grew to a degree wherein she determined she could not combat it anymore. Her love for the sport had by no means wavered, she insisted, and she or he believed she nonetheless had what it took to play towards the most effective on the earth. Having beforehand retired and unretired as soon as earlier than, she acknowledged the sensation.
This time, she insists, can be completely different. Now there can be a stability, and she or he feels assured to say no and switch down issues she would not wish to do. Her kids, now 12, 6 and three, stay her precedence, and she or he works in her coaching round their schedules. And if she wants recommendation about making an attempt to do all of it, she has some useful co-workers she will be able to flip to — former rival and 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka are two of a handful of mothers at the moment enjoying on tour.
Clijsters, who has labored as a commentator for the previous a number of years, has beforehand mentioned watching them has motivated her, and it is clear that feeling is mutual. After Clijsters’ first match in February — a loss to Garbine Muguruza in Dubai — Williams tweeted: “Severely so so so happy with Kim Clijsters. You encourage me. Wow. Simply wow congrats you probably did superb.”
Severely so so so happy with Kim Clijsters. You encourage me. Wow. Simply wow congrats you probably did superb.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) February 18, 2020
Clijsters had deliberate on enjoying a partial 2020 schedule and by no means had supposed in doing all — and even most — of the globetrotting, week-to-week grind of the tour.
After all, finally the season, or what’s left of it, was determined for her, however she’s trying ahead to subsequent enjoying within the Western & Southern Open on the Billie Jean King Nationwide Tennis Middle in Queens. The match, usually performed in Cincinnati, would be the first of two occasions held within the crowd-less and closely protocoled bubble in New York, with the US Open getting underway on the finish of the month. Clijsters, a three-time former champion on the Slam, was granted a wild card for each tournaments.
“I am excited to get to New York and play,” she mentioned. “I have not performed a full singles match [at WTT] or full doubles match, however I’ve performed loads of units and I felt good. Clearly enjoying an official match once more is the following step. It’ll be unusual with no followers, and I’ve at all times loved enjoying in entrance of a crowd — particularly these evening matches on the US Open the place there’s such a distinct power — however it’s nonetheless going to be a tennis match and you are still going to have your coach and any person there to assist you.”
“If I did not really feel like, or if I did not have that confidence that I may nonetheless play good tennis, then I might have by no means began this.”
Probably the most well-liked gamers on the tour, by followers and her friends alike, Clijsters’ efforts in New York can be must-see matches, however she’s not fascinated by that. Already enshrined within the Corridor of Fame, she says she has nothing to show to anybody this time round. That’s, besides herself.
“This is not for the surface; this actually is for me,” she mentioned. “It is extra a drive inside me, the place I do know the place I wish to get to. And that is what has been the motivation for this, as a result of I really feel like I can nonetheless play some actually good tennis. That is what gave me the push to go for it. If I did not really feel like, or if I did not have that confidence that I may nonetheless play good tennis, then I might have by no means began this.
“I do know I nonetheless have good tennis left in me.”