British No 1 Jo Konta earned her first win of the season, passing the test that the returning Kim Clijsters presents on her comeback, by beating the Belgian in straight sets at the Abierto GNP Seguros tournament in Monterrey, after Heather Watson lost her opener.
It was very tough. She’s an incredible ball-striker. Her ability to do things with the ball is what made her a multiple Grand Slam champion. It’s why she was able to come back and play, in her second match back after 7 years, at a level like this. I feel so honoured to have played her, and really happy with my performance. Jo Konta
“As a young player, I never thought I’d get to play Kim Clijsters in my career,” Konta said during her on-court interview.
“I feel truly privileged and honoured to share the court with such a champion. It’s nice to have her back.”
Having lost her opening matches in her first 3 tournaments of the year, Konta secured a solid 6-3 7-5 win over Clijsters, who was playing in only her second professional match since 2012.
It was another impressive display by Clijsters before the No 2 seed ultimately advanced after an hour and 25 minutes.
The Belgian played well against Garbiñe Muguruza at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the former World No 1 and 4-time Grand Slam champion looked up to the challenge with Konta.
The Brit enjoyed the brighter start, earning the first 2 break points of the match before drawing first blood in the 7th game.
As Clijsters served to stay in the opening set, Konta continued to press, sweeping a forehand into the open court to break again and move within 6 games of victory.
“I felt some things were better,” Clijsters said after the match. “Some things still need a lot of improvement. That’s why it’s good to play matches.
“In Dubai, I didn’t start well because I was overwhelmed, but today I started and served much better than I did there.
“Those are a few of the positive things, and the points that have to be better, I’ll work very hard to improve them for other matches.
“I’ve been through different generations and played many players throughout my whole career.
“I’m still at a stage where I want to focus on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling, and also start reading my opponents.
“It’s a process that I have to trust and keep working hard to improve in every match I play. I’d like to take big steps but I have to focus on small step and improving day by day.”
Konta was also looking for her first win this year after a knee issue ended her resurgent 2019 season in which she reached the French Open semi-finals and the last 8 at Wimbledon.
After a quarter-final finish in Flushing Meadows, Konta suffered losses to tricky opposition Down Under to Barbora Strycova and eventual Australian Open quarter-finalist Ons Jabeur before running into an inspired Oceane Dodin at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
Against Clijsters the Brit broke in games 7 and 9 of the first set, and then claimed a solitary break in game 12 of the second.
“It was very tough. She’s an incredible ball-striker,” Konta added. “Her ability to do things with the ball is what made her a multiple Grand Slam champion.
“It’s why she was able to come back and play, in her second match back after 7 years, at a level like this.
“That’s not exactly an everyday thing, that’s for sure. I feel so honoured to have played her, and really happy with my performance.”
There will be no all-British affair in the second round, though, as Heather Watson was beaten by her former doubles partner Tatjana Maria.
“I think everyone enjoys their tennis here,” said Konta, who takes on Maria next. “Regardless of who’s playing, the crowd comes out and enjoys the sport and the show we’re putting on. That’s all we can ask for.”
Maria edged past former Abierto Mexicano Telcel champion Watson in 3 gruelling sets earlier on Tuesday.
The British No 2, who won the Mexican Open last week, had led 4-1 in the final set against the German, but eventually lost, 7-6(4) 3-6 7-5.
Top seed Elina Svitolina advanced as the Ukrainian eased past Danka Kovinic with a 6-3 6-2 win.
“For me, the goal is to win the tournament,” Svitolina said. “I’ll try to do my best, try to recover and be ready for every single match. You have to be ready. There’s no easy matches.”
Next up for her is qualifier Olga Govortsova, who beat American lucky loser Caroline Dolehide, 3-6 6-2 6-1.
Former World No 1 and 7th seed, Victoria Azarenka, however, lost 6-2 6-2 to Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek in her opening match.