The day was May 6, 2007. No one was surprised. But it was still hard to take in the news. Kim Clijsters had announced her retirement. The classy Belgian was only 23 years old, ranked No. 4 in the world. She’d started off 2007 with a run to the semis of the Australian Open.

But as far back as 2005, Clijsters had made her intentions clear. “I think I will stop at the end of 2007,” she said that July. “My body is already giving me a lot of problems. I like to win and I put in a lot to do that, but the quality of life and outside tennis are at least as important. I can’t see myself playing for more than two or three years.”

Soon after making that statement, Clijsters had the finest fortnight of her career. There were many fine weeks, Clijsters by August 2005 having won 27 WTA singles trophies. Those efforts had helped her attain the world No. 1 ranking two years earlier. She’d also already reached four Grand Slam singles finals, and lost them all. Then, at the 2005 US Open, Clijsters caught fire, winning three-setters versus Venus Williams in the quarters and Maria Sharapova in the semis before taking down surprise finalist Mary Pierce, 6-3, 6-1.

But an ankle and wrist injury hindered Clijsters for much of 2006. A hip injury plagued her through the first half of 2007. By the time Clijsters arrived in Warsaw as the defending champion, she’d only played in four WTA tournaments that year. In her first match in Warsaw, Clijsters lost to 61st-ranked Julia Vakulenko, 7-6 (3), 6-3. Several days later came the announcement. Too much wear and tear had made it hard for Clijsters to compete effectively.

“It has been more than fun,” she said, “but the racquets are being hung up. I would have been able to continue for a few months and to take part in the four most lucrative tournaments (three Grand Slams and the Masters). Money is important, but not the most important thing in my life.”

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TBT, 2007: Kim Clijsters steps away from the WTA... for the first time

TBT, 2007: Kim Clijsters steps away from the WTA... for the first time

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Clijsters’ compatriot and lifelong rival, Justine Henin, was also in Warsaw that week. “I have a lot of respect for what she did in her career—as a player, as a person,” said Henin. “We’ve almost grown up together and I think we’ve helped each other to come in another level because we’ve pushed each other always to play better . . . She did a lot for the game, for Belgian tennis for sure, and I think I will have great memories of her.”

“It is time for a new life,” said Clijsters. “Time for marriage. Time for children? Time also to relax and to play with my dogs. And especially to spend a lot of time with my family and friends.”

Just over two months later, on July 13, Clijsters married professional basketball player Brian Lynch. In 2008, on February 27, she gave birth to daughter, Jada.

And then came a major surprise. In 2009, inspired by having played an exhibition at Wimbledon, Clijsters decided to return to the WTA. Remarkably, in only her third tournament back, Clijsters won the US Open. One of the more memorable moments of that run was the sight of Clijsters simultaneously holding the 18-month-old Jada in one arm and the US Open trophy in another.

TBT, 2007: Kim Clijsters steps away from the WTA... for the first time

TBT, 2007: Kim Clijsters steps away from the WTA... for the first time

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Clijsters’ comeback was spectacular. A year later, she successfully defended her US Open title, finished the year ranked third in the world, and in 2011 won the Australian Open. By the time Clijsters retired for the second time in 2012, she’d earned 41 WTA singles titles. In 2017, Clijsters was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

But then, in September 2019—a full seven years after she’d ceased competing—the 36-year-old Clijsters announced her return. In a video posted to Instagram and Twitter, Clijsters asked, “Could I be a loving Mum to my three kids and the best tennis player I can possibly be?”

Why not?

TBT, 2007: Kim Clijsters steps away from the WTA... for the first time

TBT, 2007: Kim Clijsters steps away from the WTA... for the first time