Kim Clijsters showed flashes of her former brilliance but came out on the losing end in her return to Indian Wells on Thursday, falling to Katerina Siniakova, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.

Asked in her on-court interview about the lopsided crowd support for the four-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1, Siniakova said she understood.

“I get it, because I love her too,” the Czech replied.

Showing zero signs of any nerves, Siniakova flew out to a 4-0 lead right out of the gates and closed the first set out after just 27 minutes, never facing a break point.

That invincibility on serve didn’t last much longer, though—Clijsters broke Siniakova in a marathon 11-minute first game in the second set and built a 4-0 lead of her own. Siniakova snuck out the next two games to close the gap to 4-2 but Clijsters won the next two games to close out the set and send the match to a decider.

The momentum swung right back to Siniakova at the start of the third set, as she opened up a 4-1 lead—Clijsters then held to catch up to 4-2 and even brought up a break point in the next game that would have gotten her back on serve, but Siniakova dug that service game out to go up 5-2 and broke one last time to end it.

“It was really special,” Siniakova said of playing Clijsters. “I was really looking forward to it. I remember when I was young and watching her play, and she was always amazing, so it’s unbelievable that I could stay with her on the court today.

“I expected a really tough match. She plays so well even if she had some time off. I had to focus on playing aggressive, and I knew I needed to step up in the third set.”

Both players finished with negative winners-to-unforced errors differentials, but Siniakova was a tidier -14 (22 to 36). Clijsters, meanwhile, finished at -25 (14 to 39).

Another number that could haunt Clijsters was break points. Both players had the same number of break point chances, but while Siniakova was 6/9, Clijsters was 3/9.

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Clijsters, a champion at Indian Wells in 2003 and 2005, was playing the WTA 1000 event for the first time since 2011.

Clijsters, a champion at Indian Wells in 2003 and 2005, was playing the WTA 1000 event for the first time since 2011.

At the end of the day, Clijsters now falls to 0-5 since coming back to the tour, going 0-3 in 2020 (falling to Garbine Muguruza in Dubai, Johanna Konta in Monterrey and Ekaterina Alexandra at the US Open) and 0-2 so far in 2021 (falling to Hsieh Su-Wei in Chicago last week and now Siniakova at Indian Wells).

Clijsters is tied with eight other players for the women’s record for most career titles at Indian Wells, winning it twice in 2003 and 2005. The other eight two-time winners are Martina Navratilova, Mary Joe Fernandez, Steffi Graf, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, Daniela Hantuchova, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

The only two-time champion left in this year's women’s draw after Clijsters’ loss is Azarenka, who won here in 2012 and 2016. She would become the first-ever three-time women’s champion at Indian Wells should she win the title this year.