STARNBERG, September 27, 2021 (Guest Post)
Belgian tennis star Kim Clijsters once simultaneously held the WTA’s No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles tennis. That was in 2003. It’s nearly 2022. Clijsters, 38, is making a comeback to tournament tennis.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee gained a wild card entry into the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic. There was a time when making a tennis bet, no female player was a better bet than Clijsters. However, that time was a long time ago.
Even Clijsters summed up her comeback almost as though it was her form of mid-life crisis. “I have friends back at home in Belgium who said, ‘Oh, before I’m 40, I would like to run a marathon’ or something like that,” Clijsters told Yahoo Sports. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, so this is kind of my marathon a little bit.’”
Another Comeback Attempt
Clijsters comes out of retirement with the persistence of a professional boxer.
In 2020, the Belgian player also launched a comeback. Following a first-round loss at the U.S. Open, that comeback came to an end. Clijsters was 0-3 in her first tournament tennis action since 2012.
She’s also come back in 2009 from a previous retirement in 2007. That one was a much more successful effort. Clijsters was awarded the Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year in 2010.
In October 2020, Clijsters underwent knee surgery. Then in January of 2021, she contracted COVID-19. That put a halt to comeback attempt No. 2. It appears that try No. 3 is just ramping up.
Clijsters played an exhibition match at the Atlanta Open against former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens. Stephens won in straight sets 6-4, 6-4.
Support From Other Players
News of Clijsters return was welcomed by WTA competitors. The Belgian star is remembered as one of the friendliest and most popular players on the tour when she was a regular.
”Growing up, Kim was one of my favorite players to watch,” World No. 48 Madison Keys told ABC Australia. “I absolutely loved watching her. The fact that she’s coming back makes me incredibly happy, because she’s just one of the nicest people to have on the tour.
“When I lost in the  US Open final, and was obviously not in the best place, she found me and gave me the biggest hug and said: ‘It’s OK. It took me [four] before I got one. Don’t worry about it.’
“For her to take that time and just kind of help me through that shows how great of a person she is.”
Up For The Challenge
Clijsters was the U.S. Open women’s singles champion in 2005, 2009 and 2010. She also won the Australian Open in 2011. She was the first Belgian to attain the World No. 1 ranking. In 2001, Clijsters helped Belgium win the Federation Cup.
She’s ready to admit that at her age, things don’t come as easily for her on the tennis court.
“But I enjoy the challenges,” Clijsters said. “I enjoy when I’m out there and seeing how I react the next day. And like, ‘Oh, this thing is reacting this way’. Or my anticipation, ‘how can I train to improve that?’
“Things were just so normal back in the day. As long as I feel like I’m still improving, that’s what motivates me.”
The mother of three isn’t certain how her comeback will go, or how long she’s willing to put into pursuing a chance to again be a regular on the WTA Tour.
“I’ve been practising for so long that I’m just super excited to start playing a match and start getting the match routines and the match rhythms, just to teach my brain again how to do that,” Clijsters said.
“I’ve been playing sets in practice, but when it’s an official match, it’s always a little bit different, anyway. So I’m excited to start that new chapter in my career right now.”