Kim Clijsters announces shock return

 - Simon Cambers

Former world No 1 to begin "third career" in 2020

Kim Clijsters Trophée des Légendes 2018©Julien Crosnier/FFT

As shocks go, this one is going to take some beating.

Kim Clijsters, the former world No 1 and four-time grand slam champion, announced on Thursday that she plans to return to the WTA Tour in 2020, eight years after she retired for the second time.

At 36 and with three young children, Clijsters knows it won’t be easy to be as good as she was in her first career, or her second, when she first came out of retirement and won three of her four grand slams.

Kim Clijsters inducted to the US Open Court of Champions.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“This is my marathon“

"The love for the sport is obviously still there,” Clijsters said in a WTA Insider Tour podcast. “But the question still is, am I capable of bringing it to a level where I would like it to be at and where I want it to be at before I want to play at a high level of one of the best women's sports in the world.

"I don't feel like I need to prove anything, but I want to challenge myself and I want to be strong again. This is my marathon. This is where I'm saying OK, let's try this."

A brilliant athlete and always one of the most popular players on Tour, Clijsters held the world No 1 ranking for a total of 20 weeks and won 41 titles, including three US Open titles, the first of which came in 2005. 

She retired for the second time in 2012

After she retired for the first time in 2007 at the age of 23, she came back in 2009 and immediately won a second US Open. She won a third US Open the following year and when she won the Australian Open in 2011, she returned to the world No 1 ranking.

She retired for the second time in 2012, after the US Open and seemed to be that, especially as she quickly had a second and then third child.

But spending time around the Tour in recent years, and seeing the likes of Roger Federer, Serena and Venus Williams and the Bryan brothers continue to be successful has been an inspiration.

“When I see Serena and Venus and Roger, I think this is awesome,” she said.

“Then when I have people who keep telling me, why don’t you do this, why don’t you try this, then now. I can try to do it and see how far I can push myself and how far I can go.

“If I was 40 or 45 I wouldn’t even be thinking of it. I know if I want to still do it, and see how far I can go, then I have to do it now. If I wait two or three years, my body would be a little bit older…so it all kind of fell into place.”

Kim Clijsters and Jennifer Capriati Roland-Garros final©FFT

Enjoying the challenge

When Clijsters helped to open the new Court No 1 roof at Wimbledon this summer, Williams told reporters Clijsters was still good enough to play at the top level.

Clijsters said she has been enjoying the challenge of training and getting back into top shape and hopes to begin in time for the Australian Open in 2020.

But she will only come back for good when she is 100 percent ready.

“I really mean this, what we’re doing right now has already been worth it,” she said of her work with her fitness trainer Sam Verslegers.

“Training together and pushing each other and motivating, I really like this. For me, being successful, or my first kind of success, is to get myself to feel where I want to be at, to know that I feel ready to be able to compete, where I’m fit enough to play tough matches, in heat, on a tough surface, that’s when I think I will feel I’ve reached where I want to be.

“If I feel in December that I’m not anywhere near where I want to be, I’m not going to go somewhere for the sake of it. I still have three and a half months so I think I can have a lot of improvement. If then I feel (ready), OK.” 

“I’m still not even close to where I hope I can get to but the process is a lot of fun and I’m at a stage now where I am going to start to play more tennis, physically I feel like I have the power in my legs again, my core is stronger.” 

Kim Clijsters at the 2012 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Balancing family life and tennis

As a former world No 1, Clijsters is able to request as many wildcards as she likes, which will help her when she returns. The fact that her youngest child, Blake, has started nursery, made the decision to return easier. 

“I’ll take time off during tournaments,” she said. “There might be two, three months between tournaments, which I have absolutely no problem with.”

Balancing family life and her tennis will dictate where she goes and when.

"My head has to be clear for me to be able to leave the kids behind and to go to practice or to know that everything is organised at home and that dinner's ready for the next day or whatever it is you know that everything is planned," Clijsters said.

"Our life is so set when it comes to routines that our kids have, whether it's hobbies or schools. That's not going to change, I don't want that to change. I'm just going to be away a little more. If I feel like it's interfering with what's going on with the kids, then I'm not playing. Then I'll wait until it fits.”

With so many examples now of players having success well into their late 30s, Clijsters could not resist the chance to give it one more try.