Kim Clijsters Begins Comeback With a Promising Loss

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After nearly eight years away, Kim Clijsters, now a mom of three, returned to the tennis tour on Monday.

She misplaced in straight units within the opening spherical of the WTA occasion in Dubai, however her 6-2, 7-6 (6) defeat to Garbiñe Muguruza felt extra like a triumph than a letdown.

There have been indicators of rust, together with 10 double faults. But how might there not be, contemplating Clijsters performed her final official singles match in August 2012, when Muguruza was nonetheless a youngster?

More intriguing, there have been large hints that Clijsters might nonetheless maintain her personal at this elite degree. A four-time Grand Slam singles champion, Clijsters stays a world-class ball striker, able to producing straightforward, rhythmic energy from all sections of the court docket. She additionally remembers the way to construct some extent with methodology and confidence and, extra essential, end what she has constructed.

She even carried out a few splits as she defended to her forehand facet — not fairly the complete splits that have been her trademark at her peak however not unhealthy in any respect at age 36.

“I’m sure she’s going to get better and better and for sure give us a lot of trouble,” Muguruza mentioned. “I think she played really well after all these years.”

Clijsters definitely made it difficult for an in-form, in-the-moment opponent on Monday, rallying from a 0-3, two-break deficit within the second set to rework a comeback curiosity into a real duel.

“It was sort of two matches,” mentioned Pam Shriver, the longtime professional and ESPN analyst. “At 2-6, 0-3, I was concerned for Kim and thinking, why start at such a big tournament when she would benefit so much by playing at a lower level and not against someone quite of the quality of Muguruza? But then something clearly clicked in.”

Muguruza, a former No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam singles champion, is on a rebound of her personal at age 26 after a chronic tailspin. She navigated a tricky draw to reach the Australian Open remaining this month, the place she misplaced to Sofia Kenin in three taut units.

Muguruza’s want to rise once more is unmistakable, obvious in her nervous vitality and eagerness to play the following level. Though her second serve stays an journey, her first serve is again to being a penetrating, match-winning weapon.

It was the important thing in opposition to Clijsters, who struggled to provide fast-twitch returns when she wanted them most. Still not fully again to her former taking part in form, she was sluggish at occasions to react to her backhand facet and was off rhythm at occasions on the stretch or on the internet.

But she was hardly ever overwhelmed in opposition to one of many tour’s flattest, most aggressive hitters. That bodes nicely for the tournaments forward.

“I had a good feeling out there,” Clijsters instructed reporters at her post-match information convention, saying she felt reassured that she might deal with Muguruza’s tempo. “She’s probably not the hardest hitter out there. There’s some girls that hit the ball a lot harder. I felt like I was able to go toe-to-toe with her from the baseline.”

What was additionally reaffirming was that she was in a position to shock Muguruza from the baseline, producing angles and patterns that left her lunging or leaning the fallacious means.

“If she stays healthy and she plays herself into shape, she will expose many players’ weaknesses by her ability to disguise her shot placement better than this generation,” mentioned Sven Groeneveld, who previously coached Maria Sharapova. “Kim will be a step slower than she used to be, but other than that I think she is good enough to compensate for the lack of movement or explosiveness. Like Roger has done.”

Roger can be Roger Federer, who will flip 39 in August. Still ranked No. Three after reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open, he’s certainly one of a number of enduring champions who helped Clijsters imagine that one other profitable comeback was potential.

She has come again earlier than: In 2009, after the beginning of her daughter Jada, she received the 2009 United States Open as a wild card, and Jada helped her rejoice in Arthur Ashe Stadium, in one of many extra touching moments in tennis historical past. Clijsters went on to win the 2010 U.S. Open and 2011 Australian Open, and she or he returned to No. 1 earlier than retiring once more in September 2012 to assist her husband Brian Lynch’s profession, increase their household and let her accidents heal.

It is a grinding, bodily sport at this degree, stuffed with high-impact rallies and important jet lag, and Clijsters will attempt to manage it after a number of years away and with a number of recent private calls for.

She will decide her spots judiciously, helped by the truth that the WTA now permits limitless wild playing cards for former No. 1 gamers. She just isn’t required to play a full schedule, however plans on competing subsequent month in Monterrey, Mexico, and Indian Wells, Calif.

A fifth Grand Slam singles title looks like an excessive amount of to ask for, contemplating all of the proficient contenders from completely different generations at the moment within the ladies’s sport. But based mostly on Monday’s proof, a deep run just isn’t out of the query if Clijsters can stay wholesome, dial in her second serve and readjust to taking part in powerful back-to-back matches.

“A couple of times I was watching the rallies and rubbing my eyes and saying, ‘This is like 12 years ago,’” Shriver mentioned. “It’s such a different conversation than it could have been with what happened in the second set. And so this continues in my mind to be one of the most intriguing times in women’s tennis in the 40-some-odd years I’ve been involved. It’s the mix of people, ages, geography, everything. There are so many great stories.”

Clijsters returning in model definitely would qualify as an excellent one. For now, she is 0-1 however off to a promising begin.