After seven years of retirement, Kim Clijsters made her comeback to tennis at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this past Monday. She drew Garbine Muguruza, a player in great form, and once she settled her nerves from the first set, she picked up her game tremendously in the second. Though she ended up losing in straight sets 2-6, 6-7(8), she gave us all a glimpse of the Kim Clijsters we’ve missed and of the exciting tennis yet to come.
In her post match conference, Clijsters discussed what it’s like being back on tour, her emotions on the court and the reactions of her children.
Q. It’s still there, isn’t it?
Kim Clijsters: A little bit (smiling). No, I felt obviously the second set was a big difference compared to the first set. My timing in the first set, my footing, just kept looking for it. I felt a few times it was there, then it would be off a few points.
At times, I felt like I was close. I was seeing the ball clear. Just started reading her game better, as well, getting used to her pace a little bit.
Yeah, second set I felt I was really in the match. 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.
Q. Can you try and describe your emotions when you stepped on the court, then the second set when the crowd was rallying behind you?
Kim Clijsters: Yeah, it felt great. Obviously, for me, I’ve never played here, so I didn’t know how do you get to the stadium, how do you do the walk, then walking through the banners, the people cheering you on.
It works. It’s motivational. Seeing some of the Belgians and the Belgian flags, it’s nice. It’s a nice feeling. It helps in moments like this or in moments like the first set, where I feel like, OK, I have to work my way into the matches.
To have that support, it definitely helps each time to step onto the line and kind of forget about what just happened and the mistake and just take it from scratch again and just be positive and work your way through a match and fight. It was nice to have the support, seeing a lot of the Belgian flags, like I said.
So, yeah, I always used to like playing night matches. I felt like in the beginning, with my serve, with the dark sky, my timing was off at times. Yeah, just little things that I have to get used to step by step. But it was fun.
Q. You mentioned a couple days ago your expectations are not results oriented. For someone who has won so much and been at the top, talk about the mentality shift.
Kim Clijsters: I think I said it also yesterday in my press conference. I talk a lot about feeling when I’m out there. Of course, you play tennis because you want to win your matches. I felt like I had an opportunity to win that second set.
There’s a moment of disappointment where you try to, like, have it all sink in, kind of just go through, run your brain through the match again, see this is what happened through that first set, what made me change also the belief and just knowing that I felt like I could go toe-to-toe with her in the rallies.
She played well, played really well when I had a couple break points. Served well. That was probably one of the biggest differences today, was how well she served when she had to come up with great shots.
Q. You spoke about feeling it. Before you thought of coming back, did you also consider injuries, coming back at 36, or did you just go with the feeling and keep the negatives out?
Kim Clijsters: I mean, I think as an athlete you know that injuries can happen. You try to be professional enough and prepare yourself as good as possible so that injuries or bad injuries won’t happen. I think there’s a lot of players who play with little nig-nags and little stuff, which is not something that I’m worried about. Obviously, the big injuries you try to stay away from.
I don’t want to think about that because I feel like when you start putting negative thoughts in your head, you kind of draw them to you. But I have a good team around me with people who I completely trust their view on how to take care of my body, how to prepare myself physically, mentally. I feel really lucky with the team I have around me.
Within myself, I’ve said it a few times to some of my team members, but I’ve thought about it on the inside. I feel really, really good with the team around me. I think that’s the first step because it’s not easy to, from the start, find someone who you talk the same tennis language with as I do with my coach, with Fred. Then Sam, obviously, my trainer, he’s been working with me for a long time.
But just 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.
Q. [Your children’s] reaction to your decision, what kind of conversations did you have with them?
Kim Clijsters: Mixed. Jada is like, ‘Mom, do it. If you feel like doing it, just do it.’ Jack, our middle child, he was like, ‘Mom, I hope you lose your first match, then you can come home quicker.’
Just different feelings. The youngest is too young to really understand, but the support is there. They see me practice, and they play some tennis at the academy, as well.
Yeah, it’s different than, whatever, 10 years ago when Jada was on tour. They’re older. Jada can understand. She plays basketball. She sees me at night when I’m in the gym. She comes down to the gym with me. We do exercises together. We stretch, little things like that.
It makes me think of how it used to be when I was younger. My dad was rehabbing his knee for soccer. Yeah, just funny how kind of moments that you can kind of relate to what it used to be. Yeah, it’s fun. They’ll start traveling a little bit more now in the next few weeks when I go to Monterey and Indian Wells. It will be nice to have them with me.
At the age of 36 Clijsters is taking on a big challenge to come back, but her performance suggested it was the right decision and she told her fans that she is positive about continuing her comeback.
” I may have lost the match but for me this was a win. Being back on court … that’s the feeling and energy I’ve missed and loved finding it again. Now looking forward to working together with my team to continue to grow and find my rhythm – step by step! “
Now that I’ve seen her back in action, I’m very much looking forward to seeing her take to the courts at the Monterrey Open, which starts March 2.