For the popular Belgian, who first rose to the top of the ranks 16 years ago, this will be her second comeback to professional tennis. She also made a successful return in 2009, having retired in 2007, and went on to win three of her four Major singles titles, two at the US Open, and then her first Australian Open trophy, before adding a third WTA Championships title to her resume.
Clijsters played the first professional matches on the ITF Circuit in 1997, made her WTA debut at the age of 15 in Antwerp in 1999, but two years after winning her first Major at the 2005 US Open, she stunned the tennis world when she announced her retirement at the age of 23 due to injuries, but also to start a family. She returned two years later, now married and the mother of daughter Jada, only to play her last competitive match, again at the US Open, in 2012, at the age of 29.
Now the 36-year-old mother of three aims to return during the Australian swing at the start of next year. Clijsters has been in training since the beginning of this year, and after hitting several fitness benchmarks—in particular testing herself in singles at the Wimbledon No1 Court Celebration in May—she has decided there is another chapter to be written in her tennis career.
“I’m so excited to announce that I will be making my second comeback to the WTA Tour. While there is a lot of work ahead of me in the next four months, my biggest motivation is the personal challenge involved: Both physically and mentally, I want to test myself again.
“At 36 years old, I feel like I’m too young to be retired and, with so many inspirational athletes and moms competing, I can’t wait to get back on the match court and see what’s possible after having three children.”
When she won the US Open in 2009, it made Clijsters the third WTA player to win a Major after giving birth, along with Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong, and brought her tally of singles titles to 41. She went on to return to No1 in February 2011.
During her seven-year absence, Clijsters was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017, and the opening paragraph of her citation explained perfectly just why she remains so admired on the tour—and she won the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award eight times.
“There was a refreshing, seamless quality to Kim Clijsters, a smooth, unpretentious manner that enabled her to manage the ups and downs of the tennis life with grace and kindness. Whether in victory or defeat, through injuries and tragedy, life as a player, life as a child or life as a parent, the public Clijsters never lost sight of the big picture, never forgot that she was fortunate to earn a living as an athlete and that tennis’s competitive pressures were indeed a privilege. Most of all, Clijsters demonstrated that what mattered most wasn’t if you won, but how you conducted yourself.”
Since making the surprise announcement of her return this week, she has talked about her reason, and of the challenges it poses, in an exclusive interview for the WTA Insider podcast.
“These last few months have been tough, but I feel like I’ve had more energy these last six months or so than I’ve had in the last two years because I’m taking care of myself better… I’m actually giving myself some time, and it’s something that I kind of forgot about a little bit, you know?
“Even if I don’t make it, this whole process has been so worth it for me to get back into a good routine… Let’s see if I can get my body in shape to play tennis at a level where I would like it to be… see if it’s possible. To see, first of all, if my body is capable of even doing that.
“It’s a very satisfying feeling to have that kind of challenge again.”
As a former world No1, Clijsters is eligible for unlimited wild cards at WTA tournaments. She will need play three tournaments or earn 10 ranking points to re-establish a ranking, but she has made it clear she has no intention of playing a full calendar. She will instead pick and choose her tournaments to suit her own fitness schedule and the demands of her family life.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge