She may not have won the match but Kim Clijsters certainly stunned the tennis world with her ‘impressive’ return after eight years out of the game.
Clijsters says she is going to plough ahead with her tennis comeback despite losing her return match 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) to Garbine Muguruza in the opening round of the WTA event in Dubai.
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Four-time grand slam champion Clijsters, 36, had been out of the game for eight years before the clash with Muguruza, who reached the final of the Australian Open last month, and is keen to push ahead after an encouraging display against the World No.16 Spaniard.
"I had a good feeling out there, I felt a pace I can handle. I felt like I was able to go toe-to-toe with her from the baseline," said Clijsters.
"I wouldn't have done this if I didn't have that belief somehow. It might take 10 matches to get the way I played in the second set, might take me 10 matches to get that from start to finish.
"I have patience. I'm going to work my way into it and fight. We'll see what happens."
Clijsters did not say where she will continue her comeback, not mentioning any future tournament entries after taking part in Dubai as a wild card.
Two-time grand slam winner Muguruza meanwhile will play one of Veronika Kudermetova and Dayana Yastremska in the next round after having to fight off a determined Clijsters in a tight second set following a simple first.
"I've seen her play when I started on the tour, she's an incredible player," Muguruza said of Clijsters.
"I was excited to be the first (opponent of the comeback). She played very well, especially in the second set.
"At the end. It was very tight. It was a fun match to play.
"I'm sure she's going to get better and better, for sure she give me a lot of trouble. She played really well after all these years (away)."
Clijsters fightback stuns tennis world
Ninth seed Muguruza, 10 years younger than Clijsters, dominated early on as the veteran Belgian played her first official match since the 2012 US Open.
Mother of three Clijsters, who was playing in Dubai for the first time in her career, was on the back foot in the early part of the match, losing serve in the first game of both sets.
She found herself three down after losing her first two service games in the second set after being swept aside in the first but fought back gamely to lead 5-4 after nine games.
However Muguruza took the set to a tie-break and emerged victorious with a service winner on her second match point after nearly an hour and three-quarters on court.
Tennis fans and commentators were in awe of Clijsters’ display after eight years away from tennis.
Woahh.— José Morgado (@josemorgado) February 17, 2020
Clijsters comes back from 0-3* to 4-4 in the 2nd.
Garbiñe Muguruza defeats Kim Clijsters 6-2, 7-6 (6). But if you didn't know, never would have guessed that Clijsters, 36, had been away from the tour for over 7 years. Still a world-class ball striker. Lots to work on, including her second serve. But lots to feel good about, too— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) February 17, 2020
In a battle of former world number ones and multiple Grand Slam champions, Garbiñe Muguruza welcomes back Kim Clijsters with a 6-2, 7-6(6) win to reach the 2nd round in Dubai.— José Morgado (@josemorgado) February 17, 2020
That was very, very impressive from the Belgium after 7.5years out.
Wildly impressive play by Kim Clijsters in her first match in more than seven years, pushing Australian Open finalist Garbiñe Muguruza to 6-2, 7-6(6).— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) February 17, 2020
So many vintage Clijsters moments.
Keep blinking again and again to make sure that’s Kim Clijsters on court at a WTA event in 2020. It’s fantastic to see. Her fight has been phenomenal today. I’m so impressed.— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) February 17, 2020
kim clijsters you are ridiculous.— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) February 17, 2020
Gosh, just watching Kim Clijsters swinging away at a tennis court makes me so, so happy. I grew up watching Kim when she first returned after having Jada, and there are plenty of signs that she’s still got it after SEVEN years. Can’t wait to see her again this year! 👏 #DDFTennis— Max Gao (@MaxJGao) February 17, 2020
Ons Jabeur continues red-hot form
Earlier, Ons Jabeur beat Alison Riske 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-3 to earn a second-round date with top seed Simona Halep.
Tunisian Jabeur, ranked 45 in the world, saw off American Riske amid passionate home support for a player who trains in Dubai.
"I'm so grateful for the crowd, they really gave me energy. It feels like home here," said Jabeur.
"Alison is tough, she made me run everywhere, I was down in the second set but got it back in the third," added the first Arab woman to reach a grand slam quarter-final last month at the Australian Open.
Barbora Strycova turned a corner after a poor start this season as she defeated US teenager Amanda Anisimova 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-4, winning only her second match of 2020.
The 18-year-old Anisimova managed 43 winners but was weighed down by 67 unforced errors in a struggle lasting just over two-and-a-half hours.
Strycova will face the winner between Su-Wei Hsieh and eighth-seed Petra Martic.