Each Thursday, Joel Drucker will look back at a moment in tennis that warrants remembrance. Some will be significant, others humorous, and many in between. It's Throwback Thursday, tennis-style.
When Kim Clijsters arrived at Indian Wells in 2005, she could immediately look back at two drastically contrasting years.
In 2003, it had been a joyous tournament for the Belgian at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, taking the title with a tight 6-4, 7-5 win over Lindsay Davenport. Later that day, she’d also watched her fiancé, Lleyton Hewitt, raise the champion’s trophy.
But as the defending champ in 2004, Clijsters played and won just one match in the desert before withdrawing from the tournament with a torn left wrist tendon. This proved the opening tumble of an anguishing time that would entail surgery in June and only see Clijsters play two more WTA events in 2004. She also broke up with Hewitt that fall.
Clijsters at last returned to the WTA in February 2005, at an indoor event in Antwerp. She won two matches before losing in the quarterfinals to Venus Williams.
Just before Indian Wells began, Clijsters' ranking was No. 133—not high enough for automatic qualification. But naturally, a recent past champion was worthy of a wild card. Clijsters made the most of it.
Without dropping a set, she won four straight matches to reach the quarterfinals. There, she took on the crafty future Hall of Famer, Conchita Martinez, winning in rollercoaster fashion, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2. The semifinal was much easier, a 6-4, 6-2 victory over fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva.
The final, though, figured to be extremely challenging. Top seed Lindsay Davenport, a Southern California native quite familiar and comfortable on these hard courts, was playing terrific tennis. In the semis, she’d beaten reigning Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-0—that is not a typo—and was eager to claim the title for the third time.
Clijsters-Davenport was an intriguing rivalry. Davenport, seven years older than Clijsters, had won five of their first six matches. But Clijsters had turned it around, winning seven of the next eight. Likely a major factor was that while Davenport hit the ball harder, Clijsters was a better mover, her sweeping court coverage extending rallies just long enough to give her a chance to either elicit a Davenport error or seize control of the rally.
Davenport roared off to a 4-0 lead, But Clijsters rallied superbly, taking six straight games to win the first set. Davenport countered, winning the second set by the same score. In the third, though, with Davenport serving at 2-3, 30-40, Clijsters’ superb speed compelled the American to play an inside-out forehand a little too close to the lines—just wide. That break was enough for Clijsters to take the next two games, and the match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
“Kim is great fighter and a great player,” said Davenport.
“I've always played really good matches here, have a lot of very positive memories out of this one,” said Clijsters. “You know, getting my injury here last year was probably not a great memory, but being able to win it here again, you know, it's been incredible.”
Clijsters’ great tennis would continue. At the next stop, Miami, she’d also win the tournament, beating four Top 10 players along the way. Clijsters claiming the cherished “Sunshine Double,” was a sign of even greater things to come. Having lost all four Grand Slam singles she’d previously played, Clijsters at last won her first major at the US Open. Feast to famine—to feast, again.