Garbiñe Muguruza was in no mood for niceties on Monday at the Dubai Duty Free when she encountered Kim Clijsters on the Belgian’s return to the WTA Tour after an absence of 8 years, and duly dispatched her, 6-2 7-6(6), but it wasn’t altogether easy.
I felt like for a while I was dominating some of the points ... 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. I’ll take that with me for the next matches. Kim Clijsters
The Spaniard was pretty clinical in the first set, taking advantage of Clijsters’ jitters, and had to hold off a ferocious second-set comeback before triumphing in 97 minutes of play, striking 19 winners to the Belgian’s 15, helped along by winning nearly three-quarters of points off her first serve.
After the match, Muguruza described Clijsters as ‘an incredible player’ and admitted she was ‘excited to be the first one’ for the Belgian to face in her comeback.
She probably was relieved to have come through the occasion unscathed.
“I think she played very well, especially in the second set, at the end,” Muguruza said. “It was very tight. So, yeah, I think it was a fun match to play.”
Clijsters felt she had much to be pleased about in her comeback match, having matched the pace and intensity of the Australian Open finalist for most of the match.
The 4-time Grand Slam champion was making her first appearance on the WTA Tour since the 2012 US Open, and the 36-year-old said she was looking forward to getting more matches under her belt.
“I had a good feeling out there,” she told reporters. “I do feel a little bit of, I’m not going to say relief, but a feeling of the pace I can handle.
“Obviously she’s probably not the hardest hitter out there. There’s some girls that hit the ball a lot harder. I felt like I was able to go toe-to-toe with her from the baseline.
“I felt like for a while I was dominating some of the points … 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.
“I’ll take that with me for the next matches.”
Muguruza, 26, said she was unsure of what to expect from Clijsters: “I’m sure she’s going to get better and better, for sure give us a lot of trouble,” she added with a smile.
This is Clijsters’ second comeback, having spent two years out of the game from 2007 to 2009, but she came up just short despite battling well after an understandably slow start
Muguruza added: “I think this is just special because I didn’t know how [Clijsters was] going to play.
“I know she can play incredible. She did at some point play at an incredible level. Just the special feeling.
“I haven’t seen her play in so long, so it’s like, ‘OK, what’s going to happen?’ “
Clijsters’ fellow Belgian Elise Mertens did make it through to the last 16 with a 6-3 6-0 win over Wang Qiang of China in a match only lasted an hour and two minutes, while Marketa Vondrousova’s 6-3 6-2 victory over Anastasija Sevastova was just 7 minutes longer.
Barbora Strycova and American Amanda Anisimova were involved in a titanic battle, which lasted 2 hours and 33 minutes.
The Czech won the first set, was pegged back 6-2 in the second but came through the decider to win, 7-6(3) 2-6 6-4, and was joined in the next round by Ons Jabeur, who also needed three sets to get past the tenacious American, Alison Riske.
The Tunisian wild card needed 2 hours and 12 minutes to win, 7-6(3) 1-6 6-3 to meet top-seed Simona Halep, who received a bye in the first round.
After the match, Jabeur said: “She’s such a fighter. We know that all the players who fight like this, it’s tough to win against them. She didn’t give me any easy balls at the beginning, so I had to go and win my point.
“She has such flat and tricky shots; it was kind of tough for me to really spin a little bit and put the ball in.”