Clijsters determined to use WTT as stepping stone for tour returnBy Jul 16, 2020
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Clijsters determined to use WTT as stepping stone for tour return
The prep involves winning as the 37-year-old upset world No. 4 Sofia Kenin on Wednesday night.
Published Jul 16, 2020
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va.—Kim Clijsters made a statement on Wednesday night: she means business. Playing for the New York Empire, the 37-year-old beat Sofia Kenin, 5-3.
At No. 4 in the world, Kenin is the highest-ranked player in the World TeamTennis field. New York would go on to win every set against Kenin's Philadelphia team for a 25-17 win, with Clijsters also posting a mixed doubles win with Neal Skupski.
"She's obviously a multiple Grand Slam winner. She's in the Hall of Fame," Skupski says. "Kim brings a lot of character to the team, a lot of experience. Playing mixed with her was unbelievable."
Clijsters is 2-0 in singles so far at the Creekside Stadium. (Ryan Loco)
Clijsters has four singles Grand Slam titles, plus two doubles, and held the No. 1 ranking in both disciplines simultaneously in 2003. She last played WTT in 2009, when she was making her first comeback. That summer she would win the US Open, and then defend it in 2010.
She's taking the experience this time around very seriously—so much so that she was watching Kenin and the Freedoms compete the night before.
“She's has to scout a lot of these players because they were just kids when she was playing,” New York coach Luke Jensen says. “She has to go back to not being an analyst, but actually being a competitor and seeing how these players play.”
Clijsters and Kenin at the Miami Open In 2005. (YouTube)
Clijsters has had her eye on the 2020 Australian Open champion long before she faced her for the first time on court.
"I really enjoyed watching her at the Australian Open, but already before that," Clijsters says. "Just seeing her grow into a Grand Slam champion has been nice to see. She's so young and has so much more to gain."
When Kenin was six, she followed Clijsters around the 2005 Miami Open. Who could have known then that these two would be facing off in 2020?
"She was this cute, little, adorable girl who had the sweetest voice and was just intrigued by tennis," Clijsters says. "She was so entertained by everything that was going on and was just a star in the making. She was born to do something like this."
Clijsters retired for the second time in 2012, long before the 21-year-old Kenin began making a name for herself on the WTA tour. The Belgian welcomed two more children, and then in September, she announced she was coming back—much to the surprise and delight of the tennis world.
She would get just two matches in before the COVID-19 shutdown (both were losses: to Garbine Muguruza in Dubai and Johanna Konta in Monterrey). Undeterred by the setback, Clijsters kept focused, while raising her three children at home (Jada is 12, Jack is six and Blake is three).
Clijsters with her daughter Jada at the 2010 US Open.
"Its not like you're dealing with an injury and you're the only one out," Clijsters says. "This is what everybody has to deal with. We just tried to make sure that we were able to do the things we wanted to do with the family, and at the same time still train and take care of myself."
The 41-time WTA champion was training in New Jersey for the past few weeks, and she brought fitness trainer Jean Baptiste Chaffard and coach Fred Hemmes to The Greenbrier, while her family will join her mid-season.
She's determined to use the WTT season as a stepping stone into the tour's reopening in August.
“She's brought her team here. She's into it,” Jensen says. “There’s a reason why she's back playing professional tennis. There's a desire in there before that window closes to say I want to give it one more shot."