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Kim Clijsters ends latest comeback bid, announces retirement from tennis
The former world No. 1 has found it difficult to stay away after twice retiring in 2007 and 2012, launching a third career that was ultimately curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published Apr 12, 2022
WATCH: Clijsters played her final match at the 2021 BNP Paribas Open last fall.
Kim Clijsters announced on Tuesday that the third—and likely final—chapter of her illustrious tennis career has come to a close, ending an odyssey that began when she first turned pro 25 years ago and yielded 52 titles in total.
"I have decided to no longer play official tournaments," she wrote on Instagram. "I can’t wait to see what new adventures will cross my path. Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past two years!"
A former No. 1 in both disciplines and six-time Grand Slam champion—four in singles, two in doubles—Clijsters shocked the tennis world at the end of 2019 when she revealed plans to make a third attempt at playing on the WTA tour.
"I don't feel like I need to prove anything, but I want to challenge myself and I want to be strong again,” she told WTA Insider at the time. “This is my marathon. This is where I'm saying ‘OK, let's try this.’"
She went on to play her first match in over seven years at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February 2020, acquitting herself well in two competitive sets against Garbiñe Muguruza and giving the tennis world reason to believe that, even in her late 30s, her inimitable ball striking made her an immediate contender.
After all, it wasn’t the first time Clijsters made a surprising return to action. Two years after bidding an abrupt farewell to the sport in 2007, the Belgian superstar came back just as quickly in 2009, winning the US Open in just her third tournament back. Clijsters would defend her title the following year and win a first Australian Open in 2011 shortly before earning a brief return to the No. 1 ranking she’d first earned in 2003.
One half of an iconic rivalry with countrywoman Justine Henin, Clijsters’ initial stint atop the WTA rankings came a full two years before she won her first major title. Though she had come close to victory with a pair of runner-up finishes at Roland Garros, there were some that questioned whether the amiable “Aussie Kim”—so named first for her relationship with fellow player Lleyton Hewitt, and later for her major win Down Under—was “too nice” to compete with the fiercely competitive Henin or the Williams sisters—all of whom had gotten the better in major clashes.
Clijsters turned that narrative on its head after missing much of the following season due to a persistent wrist injury, winning a rare “Sunshine Double” at Indian Wells and Miami and putting together a near-perfect summer to finally win her first Slam at the 2005 US Open.
But even as she proved capable of dominating the sport, Clijsters regularly refused to sacrifice personal happiness to live a grueling life on tour and twice stepped away to become a stay-at-home mom.
This third return, then, was meant to see her entirely on her own terms. Her children were growing and, at a time when many moms begin pursuing outside interests, Clijsters returned to her childhood passion, one into which she could put all she had left so she might never wonder what could have been.
And what could have been: only a month into this third comeback did the COVID-19 pandemic drive everyone back inside, canceling tournaments across what was meant to have been a full spring for Clijsters. Playing just three tournaments after the official lockdown lifted, her bright start in Dubai became another (relatively speaking) pandemic tragedy.
But you’ll find no bitterness from Clijsters, who remains as tuned into tennis as ever vis-à-vis a bubbly social media output. She assured herself a Hall of Fame legacy long ago, both for her on-court achievements and for how she changed the face of women’s tennis as an athlete, mother, and back again.
Clijsters proved that the modern player could truly have it all—and all at once. That this last chapter was shorter than she would have hoped takes nothing away from her hell of a story.