The Chicago Fall Classic, a WTA 500 event, gets under way this week with a field headed by Elena Svitolina and Garbiñe Muguruza that also includes the return of Kim Clijsters at the age of 38.
I've been practising for so long that I'm just super excited to start playing a match and start getting the match routines and the match rhythms, just to teach my brain again how to do that. I've been playing sets in practice, but when it's an official match, it's always a little bit different, anyway. So I'm excited to start that new chapter in my career right now. Kim Clijsters
It is now two decades since Clijsters reached her first Grand Slam final, and 10 years after she won her last major singles title.
The former World No 1, who is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, makes her latest come-back with a wild-card entry this week when she faces Australian Open quarter-finalist Hsieh Su-wei in the first round.
“I have friends back at home in Belgium who said, ‘Oh, before I’m 40, I would like to run a marathon’ or something like that. And I was like, ‘Yeah, so this is kind of my marathon a little bit.’ But I enjoy the challenges,” Clijsters said during a video conference on Sunday.
“I enjoy when I’m out there and seeing how I react the next day. And like, ‘Oh, this thing is reacting this way’. Or my anticipation, ‘how can I train to improve that?’
“Things were just so normal back in the day. As long as I feel like I’m still improving, that’s what motivates me.”
Clijsters, a mother of three who wakes up at 5am at her family’s home in New Jersey to train, hasn’t competed since a first-round loss at the 2020 US Open after her comeback was interrupted by knee surgery in October and then again when she got COVID-19 in January.
The Belgian originally left the game in 2007, then made her way back in 2009, playing her last competitive match in 2012 after having won the US Open in 2005, 2009 and 2010 as well as the Australian Open in 2011.
“I’ve been practising for so long that I’m just super excited to start playing a match and start getting the match routines and the match rhythms, just to teach my brain again how to do that,” Clijsters said.
“I’ve been playing sets in practice, but when it’s an official match, it’s always a little bit different, anyway.
“So I’m excited to start that new chapter in my career right now.”
Top seed Svitolina won the earlier Chicago event just before the US Open and has won 9 of her last 10 matches but fell to Leylah Fernandez in the quarter-finals in New York.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza is seeded second, followed by Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Rybakina, Elise Mertens, Ons Jabeur and Bianca Andreescu.
Svitolina could face Amanda Anismova in her opener after a bye, to potentially meet Jabeur in the quarter-finals, while Bencic is projected to face Rybakina, Mertens could take on Pavlyuchenkova and Muguruza would battle Andreescu.
Jessica Pegula, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Ajla Tomljanovic, Anett Kontaveit, Jil Teichmann, Danielle Collins and Victoria Azarenka are also in the 56-draw.