Former world No. 1, Kim Clijsters makes her return to the WTA Tour on Monday when she takes on Spaniard, Garbine Muguruza in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Clijsters vs Muguruza is live from Dubai on Monday, 17 February from 7:00pm local time/ 3:00pm GMT
The four-time Grand Slam champion, now a mother of three, is coming out of retirement for a second time, and will compete on the tour for the first time since August 2012.
Clijsters initially retired from the sport in 2007, when she was only 23, but she returned to the tour in the fall of 2009, and went on to claim a sensational US Open triumph just three tournaments into her second career. The Belgian successfully defended her Flushing Meadows crown in 2010, and added the 2011 Australian Open title to her collection before retiring for a second time after the 2012 US Open.
Seven years and a few months down the line, the 36-year-old is ready to return again.
The Belgian had hoped to start playing again in January 2020, but she had to abandon those plans after suffering a knee injury in November last year. Her revised plans had her scheduled for a return in March 2020, but that comeback will now happen a few weeks earlier, after she accepted a wildcard to feature at this week’s tournament in Dubai.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge,” said the returning Clijsters, who is making her debut in Dubai. “I’ve enjoyed it since the day I’ve decided to go for it. It’s been with ups and downs”.
“Being 36 years old, you know that’s how it’s been for your whole career. It is with ups and downs. It’s how you mentally stay through it; how strong you stay through those kind of situations”.
“I have expectations. I don’t think they’re the expectations [you guys] would like to hear from me. They’re not result related or ranking related. They’re more individually for myself,” Clijsters said.
Clijsters was initially drawn to face Kiki Bertens in the first round, but Bertens pulled out of the tournament, forcing the draw to be rejigged. The revised draw didn’t do Clijsters too many favours, with the Belgian now set to open against fellow former world No. 1 and two-time major winner, Garbine Muguruza on Monday.
“I’ve seen Muguruza play many matches in the last few years, so I have a little bit of an idea,” Clijsters said. “Obviously I was a little curious to see who it was going to be. I don’t think it really matters in my situation right now”.
“I still feel like I have a lot of things that I want to focus on myself, want to learn, start to get a feel for things again mentally, physically, emotionally, how I’m going to feel when I’m out there.”
Muguruza is playing her first tournament since the Australian Open, where she made the final before losing to Sofia Kenin. Following a difficult 2019, during which she slipped to 36th in the world, the Spaniard has had a resurgent start to 2020, climbing back into the top-20.
Reunited with compatriot, Conchita Martinez, with whom she won her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2017, Muguruza has made an 11-3 start to 2020, opening with a semi-final in Shenzhen (lost to Ekaterina Alexandrova), making the quarter finals in Hobart, where she withdrew due to illness, before launching that brilliant run to the Australian Open final.
The Spaniard had failed to make a quarter final in any of her six previous majors, but she ended that streak in spectacular style in Melbourne, taking down three top-ten players- Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Simona Halep- to reach her fourth major final. Muguruza took the opening set against Kenin in the championship match, but she fell just short in the end, as the excellent Kenin recovered to win 4-6 6-2 6-2.
The 26-year-old Muguruza halved her ranking with that run in Melbourne, rising to 16th in world. Can she maintain that trajectory with another strong week in Dubai? She was first drawn to open against Elina Svitolina, but that has now been adjusted following the withdrawal of Kiki Bertens, with the two-time major winner now set to face Clijsters in the Belgian’s comeback match.
It’s the first meeting between the two players, and Muguruza, with the form she’s shown this year, goes in as a very strong favourite against a player who hasn’t played competitive tennis in more than seven years.