Kim Clijsters might have lost to Garbine Muguruza in her WTA comeback on Monday, but the former world No. 1 left enough evidence to suggest that her third coming isn't just to make up the numbers.
Playing her first match since August 2012, Clijsters looked impressively sharp, especially in a very competitive second set. The 36-year-old crunched crisp forehands and showed trademark athleticism as she dragged Muguruza into a second set tie break, but she ultimately succumbed to a 6-2 7-6 defeat after 97 minutes.
Her comeback threatened to fade into a short-lived affair when she trailed by a set and a double break, but from 3-0 down in the second set, Clijsters mounted a terrific fight back, getting both breaks back before pushing the set into a tie break. The Belgian saved one match point at 6-5 in the breaker, but Muguruza would not be denied, banging down a big first serve on her second match point to close out the win.
“I had a good feeling out there,” Clijsters said, after the match. “I do feel a little bit of– I’m not going to say relief, but a feeling of the pace I can handle. ”
“Second set, I felt I was really in the match,” she continued. “I felt like for a while I was dominating some of the points. I think that’s a good feeling to have, knowing the way I started the first set and then the way I was able to get back into that second set, with the type of tennis I played, it’s something that is the positive about this match. I’ll take that with me for the next matches.”
“To know that the work we have put in, yeah, I feel like we’re going in the right direction… We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re going in the right direction. That’s really important.”
Clijsters is next scheduled to play in Monterrey in the first week in March.
Clijsters is coming out of retirement for a second time, and generally played at a very high level despite her lengthy hiatus. The Belgian first retired in 2007, at just 23, only to return in 2009 following the birth of her first daughter. She retired again after the 2012 US Open, but the four-time major champion surprised the tennis world last September when she announced that she would be stepping out of retirement yet again in 2020.
The 36-year-old initially targeted a January return, but she was forced to adjust those plans after suffering a knee injury in November. Clijsters eventually made her comeback on Monday night in Dubai, pushing in-form Australian Open finalist, Muguruza hard in a straight sets loss.
“I think this is just special because I didn’t know how [Clijsters was] going to play,” said Muguruza. “I know she can play incredible. She did at some point play incredible level. Just the special feeling. I haven’t seen her play in so long, so it’s like, ‘Okay, what’s going to happen?'”
“I’m sure she’s going to get better and better, for sure, give us a lot of trouble.”
For Muguruza, she continues her fine start to 2020, improving to 12-2 for the season. The two-time Grand Slam champion will face either Dayana Yastremska or Veronika Kudermetova in the second round.