Kim Clijsters out to prove doubters wrong at World TeamTennis

The 37-year-old four-time Grand Slam singles champion and mother of three continues her second comeback to professional tennis in a star-studded event in West Virginia, USA.

Kim Clijsters hopes to show she can return to her former heights as she steps up her tennis comeback at World TeamTennis starting next Sunday (12 July).

The four-time Grand Slam singles champion ended a seven-year hiatus from the sport at the Dubai Tennis Championships in February, and showed flashes of her former self in a first-round exit to Garbine Muguruza

But the Belgian did look well shy of full fitness, raising questions as to whether she can again be competitive at the highest level.

"I know in four years I’m not going to be able to do this challenge." - Kim Clijsters talking to tennishead

With Wimbledon cancelled and the main WTA and ATP Tours suspended until August due to the COVID-19 pandemic, World TeamTennis has the chance to become the sport's main focus.

The tournament features nine mixed-gender teams of tennis stars playing each other over the course of three weeks at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, culminating in the final on 2 August.

Unlike most professional sports which have returned to action behind closed doors, 500 spectators will be allowed in the 3,000-capacity venue per day.

Lining up alongside 37-year-old Clijsters in the NY Empire team is 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki, Rio 2016 mixed doubles gold medallist Jack Sock and retired big-server Mardy Fish.

Among the others stars are 23-time Grand Slam winner (seven in singles) and four-time Olympic gold medallist Venus Williams, Rio 2016 gold medallist Monica Puig, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic and the Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, who won no fewer than 16 Grand Slam titles together as well gold at London 2012.

A second comeback

Clijsters first called time on her career in 2007 due to injuries at the age of 23 less than two years after winning the US Open.

She had also won two Grand Slam doubles titles and held the world number one singles ranking.

After a two-year break during which she gave birth to her daughter Jada, she returned to claim victory again at the US Open despite being unseeded.

Showcasing her trademark athleticism, she retained her title at Flushing Meadows before securing consecutive Slam victories at the 2011 Australian Open.

But in 2012, injury got the better of her once more and she announced her retirement for the second time.

Over the next seven years out of the sport, she had two more children before deciding to lace her tennis shoes up once more in 2020 for a second comeback to professional tennis.

Former world number one Ana Ivanovic, who describes Clijsters as a "mentor" when she first joined the WTA Tour, thinks her friend will find it difficult to get back to the very top.

She told Eurosport’s Barbara Schett on Hanging out with Babsi, "I have been watching some of her matches and she has been striking the ball amazingly well, but I really hope she can get back to that level to play like she used to.

“Personally, I don’t think it’ll be easy after being out for so many years. It’s amazing what she achieved. I still respect her so much, it’s just difficult to imagine now after having three kids and being out for so long to make a comeback.

"Not because she’s not fit, but because your body just reacts differently. When you are out of competition you realise how much fine-tuning is necessary and she’s been out a while."

Clijsters agrees that the task ahead of her is a tough one, but says that's exactly why she is doing it.

She revealed to tennishead in April, "I have girlfriends now who at times struggle to find ‘me time’ and find their passion and find the time to live for their passion and still balance being a mum. I know in four years I’m not going to be able to do this challenge.

“I know that if I want to be able to compete with these girls then I’m going to have to be the fittest that I’ve ever been and to be able to move like I did in the past. I think that’s going to be a lot tougher now than it was nine years or so ago." - Kim Clijsters talking to tennishead

Kim Clijsters in action at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Kim Clijsters in action at the London 2012 Olympic Games.Kim Clijsters in action at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Kim Clijsters at the Olympics

Despite her strong desire to compete in Belgium’s colours on the Olympic stage, several factors prevented her from doing so for the majority of her career.

In the lead-up to the Sydney 2000, despite having had a required top-40 ranking for the year leading up to the Olympics, the event’s timing one week after the exhausting U.S. Open meant she had to sit it out.

A long-term wrist injury saw Clijsters miss Athens 2004, and she was midway through her first retirement from tennis when Beijing 2008 came around.

All of which meant that when she returned to tennis after a two-year hiatus in 2009, competing at London 2012 was one of her key motivations.

Despite struggling for form and fitness ahead of the Games, she made an impressive start to her Olympic debut with victories over Roberta Vinci, Carla Suarez Navarro and Ivanovic.

But her run came to an end with a straight-sets defeat to Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals.

If her latest comeback goes according to plan, we may well see her again in Tokyo.

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