Seven years after retiring for a second time and 10 years after winning her first Grand Slam as a mother, Belgian former world No 1 Kim Clijsters has announced her return to tennis in 2020.
“These last seven years I’ve been a full-time mum. And I love it, I really do,”she said in a video posted on social media on Thursday. “But I also loved being a professional tennis player. And honestly I miss that feeling. Could I be a loving mum to three kids, and the best tennis player I can possibly be? Let’s do this. Let’s come back one more time. See you in 2020.”
Technically, this is her third coming given her first retirement was at in 2007 when she was 23. She gave birth to her daughter Jada in 2008 and returned a year later to win the second of her four Grand Slams before hanging up her boots again after the 2012 US Open. She now has three children with two sons Jack (5), and Blake (2).
The Belgian, who made a debut aged 15 at Antwerp in 1999, won the US Open in 2005, before returning to lift the 2009 and 2010 titles in New York as well as the Australian Open in 2011. As well as her singles Grand Slam titles, she won two more in doubles at the French Open and Wimbledon with Ai Sugiyama in 2003.
Just the third mother to win a singles Grand Slam title and the only mom ever to reach No 1, the 36-year-old Clijsters is considered one of the best to have played the sport. Endurance in rallies, court-coverage and the full-stretch forehand were the highlights of the four-time Grand Slam champion’s game.
In fact, recently crowned US Open winner Bianca Andreescu’s game was compared to the Clijsters by Caroline Wozniacki and the teen responded saying that she did look up to the Belgian growing up.
Clijsters, who has spent the last few years at her academy as well as a commentator, said she had been mulling a return for a while now.
“I don’t feel like I need to prove anything, but I want to challenge myself and I want to be strong again,” she told WTA Insider Podcast.
“Over the years I sometimes played with the idea but then I was like, No this is impossible,” Clijsters said. “My life is here at home now and with the three kids, my youngest needs me the most. I couldn’t see that being a part of my life.”
But with her youngest son set to start nursery, the time was right to make the plunge again.
At 36, she is younger than the only other players who are 35-plus in the WTA top 100 at the moment: Serena and Venus Williams.
Additionally, as a former World No. 1, Clijsters will receive unlimited wildcards at WTA events: a rule that proved to be a clincher for her.
“That’s the great thing about the system that I didn’t know existed. The fact that when you’ve been No.1, you’ve won a Grand Slam, and you want to come back then you can ask for wild cards.
Starting off, you’re not restricted to certain tournaments that you have to play. That’s definitely a bonus, to hear that I don’t have to play a set number of tournaments a year,” she told WTA.
While there have been players who have enjoyed success in their second coming – Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis’ doubles success are at the top of the list – Clijsters’ return has the added level of intrigue given that she has already made a successful comeback once.
When she first returned in 2009, she took the tennis world by storm, winning the US Open as a wildcard in just her third tournament back. En route, she beat Venus Williams, Li Na, Serena Williams and Wozniacki.
Marion Bartoli made a similar announcement last year but decided to abandon her comeback. The former Wimbledon champion suffered heath issues which would make the physical grind difficult. However, Clijsters has looked in peak condition physically every time she has played exhibition games and the legends matches at Grand Slams.
In fact, earlier this year Venus Williams had said that Clisjters could be on the tour right now given how well she was playing, after an exhibition match at Wimbledon.
Despite her lengthy time out she still ranks way ahead in terms of WTA titles, behind only the Williams sisters. With 41 career titles, Clijsters is (as things stand) third in the list of active players with the most career WTA titles after Serena (72) and Venus (49). With four career Grand Slam titles she’ll be in fourth place after Serena, who has 23, Venus at seven and Maria Sharapova at five.
More importantly, women’s tennis is more unpredictable than ever with this calendar year marking the third successive season where the four Majors have been won by four different players: an unprecedented record in the Open Era. Unlike men’s tennis, there are no clear dominant forces on the exciting WTA circuit and the Belgian’s return could make the field ever more intriguing.
While there is no way to guess how this comeback of Clijsters will unfold, her announcement will definitely make the next season a highly-anticipated one.