Champion Clijsters' shock return a very welcome one
The Belgian will be back on tour in 2020, playing a reduced schedule as she looks for her fifth Grand Slam title - and it's a very welcome return, writes Carrie Dunn.
A handful of days after a teenager won her first Grand Slam title, a 36-year-old mother-of-three announced that she would be heading out on the road in 2020, looking to pick up her fifth major.
Kim Clijsters, the three-time US Open champion, will be returning to the WTA Tour from next year – and fittingly, for the woman affectionately known in Australia as “Aussie Kim”, she may well make her Slam comeback in Melbourne.
Clijsters already knows what it takes to make a comeback. She’s already done it once – and won Grand Slams in the process. As a 23-year-old in 2007, she announced her retirement, and gave birth to daughter Jada the following year.
But she couldn’t leave tennis for too long. She returned to the tour in 2009, and needed wildcards to enter tournaments seeing as she was now unranked – and unseeded. That didn’t stop her from surging to the US Open title in her third tournament back – and despite playing a limited schedule, she defended her crown the year after.
2009 US Open Final ClijstersReuters
After a series of injuries hampered her in 2012 – the year she made her first Olympic appearance – she retired again, giving birth to son Jack in 2013, and Blake in 2016. She dabbled in coaching and in commentary, but her own words indicate that getting back on the court competitively is something for which she has longed.
"I have friends who would say, I want to run the New York Marathon before I turn 50 - for me, I still love to play tennis,” Clijsters told the WTA website.
"Whenever I'm at a Grand Slam playing the Legends, if somebody asked me, ‘Hey, do you want to hit some balls?’, I'm the first one to be like, ‘I'll hit. I'll be the hitting partner for your practice today.' I still love playing tennis."
And, of course, with her little family a little older, she has a bit more time to herself.
"Especially since the last birth, I worked out a bit here and there but it was nothing consistent going on. It was whenever I had time, between the kids and the Academy. Just balancing everything, I just didn't feel like I had the time to even just take proper care of myself… Even if I don't make it, this whole process has been so worth it for me to get back into a good routine.
"I'm actually leaving the house in the morning after I've had breakfast, like back in the day like with the three kids, I would sometimes just finish a little bit of oatmeal that Jada left in her bowl, or the kids left fruit out on the table that they didn't eat. That was my breakfast a lot of times because we were rushing to school, or I was being late to daycare."
2011 Australian Open Kim ClijstersReuters
Fascinatingly, with Clijsters returning to action, that means that all the women who won three or more Grand Slams in the last 15 years are still playing… all except one.
Justine Henin – Clijsters’ old rival and compatriot – retired for the first time in 2008 when on top of the WTA rankings, returning to action the year after when she saw Clijsters’ US Open triumph, and retiring again in 2011 due to injury.
How nice it would be to have a full house of great champions back on tour – and giving the youngsters more than a run for their money.