Clijsters on Wozniacki’s comeback – Tennis Majors

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When Caroline Wozniacki announced last month that she is to make a comeback to the tennis Tour after three years away and after having two children, one player, in particular, got chills.

For Kim Clijsters, the former world No 1 who made a stunning comeback to the Tour herself after the birth of her first child, it was very much déjà vu – and the memories of her US Open triumph in 2009 and three more slam titles came rushing back.

Clijsters had played with Wozniacki in the Legends competition at the French Open in June and she had an inkling of the Dane’s return, she only found out at the same time as everyone else.

“I heard she’s starting in Montreal and then Cincinnati and I was like, no way,” Clijsters said at Wimbledon.

Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters after winning the US Open in 2010 (Imago/Panoramic)

“It brought it back in a moment. I’m really excited to see her back. I played at the French Open with her, in the Legends, and it was pretty obvious that she was definitely at a different level than most of us.

“So now that’s super exciting and a great story. I can’t wait to watch her and cheer her on.”

Clijsters beat Wozniacki in 2009 US Open final

Clijsters had always planned to retire while she was young and she was true to her word when she announced, at the age of 23 in 2007, that she would be putting away her racquets.

Two years later, she returned to the Tour and played her first event in Cincinnati, beating world No 13 Marion Bartoli before bowing out to then world No 1 Dinara Safina in the quarters.

After playing in Canada – the tournaments were the other way round in the calendar to today – Clijsters then stunned the field as she romped to victory at the US Open.

With more symmetry, her opponent that day in New York was Wozniacki, who was playing in her first Slam final. While Clijsters went on to win two more US Open titles and an Australian Open, it took Wozniacki until 2018 to win her first Slam crown, in Melbourne.

Clijsters: “She’s in great shape, she’s a counterpuncher”

For much of her career, Wozniacki played under immense pressure; from the Danish media, who had expected her to win much more, and much earlier, after becoming world No 1 so young; and from herself.

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki after winning the 2018 Australian Open (Antoine Couvercelle/Panoramic)

This time round, Wozniacki can play with house money. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in late 2018, her illness went into remission during her time away from the Tour. She says she’s back because she wants to play, test herself again.  

“She’s a winner and she wants to win,” Clijsters said. “When she gets out there, she’s not just going there because she wants to be back on tour because then she might as well keep playing the Legends.

“She’s definitely going there to (win). She’s in great shape. She’s a counterpuncher. She has such great legs, she can defend so well and make it tough for the harder hitters who maybe aren’t that’s consistent all the time.

“She can make it really tough for a lot of them. So it’ll be very, very, very interesting to see how some of those big hitters will do against somebody who is very consistent, who is bringing a lot of shots back to you.”

Clijsters: “You learn other people are really good at taking care of your kids too”

For Clijsters, juggling family and career was tough at first, even if her results came immediately.

“It’s individual,” she said. “I know her well, but not that well. I’m sure she has it all worked out. She has a lot of support from her husband, from her family. When you are a mother, but then you also become a professional athlete again, you have an expectation of how you did it before and the time that goes into it.

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki in the 2023 Roland-Garros legends’ event (Chryslene Caillaud/Panoramic)

“That was, for me, a little bit hard in the beginning to balance things. Am I going to commit six, seven hours a day focusing on myself again?

“And then how do I feel about that, where you have to leave your daughter or your kids behind? I struggled a little bit with that in the beginning. But then you learn that there’s other people that are really good at taking care of your kids too.

“So I think that was a little bit of a of a challenge just mentally to kind of push that motherly instinct aside. But you have to kind of balance that so you have enough of both. So I think that will be probably the biggest challenge at the beginning.”

Mirza: “You realise losing a tennis match isn’t the worst thing in the world”

Sania Mirza, the former doubles world No 1, said her experience in becoming a mother made her think Wozniacki could be more relaxed than before.

“I just think your priorities change,” she said. “I just think you realise that losing a tennis match isn’t the worst thing in the world. I think that actually kind of helps you in a way, because I feel like it kind of puts things into perspective.

“That’s what it did for me. And, and maybe the way I would react to a loss would be much different to how I reacted to it in the last four years. So I think that can be a positive, really.”

Wozniacki has a lot to do if she is to emulate what Clijsters achieved, but she’s put in a lot of work and seems motivated.

“I am not putting a time on how long I will play, just see how the body holds up, see how I feel, how the kids and everyone does,” she said.

“I am excited to be back and excited to be playing and hopefully it will be my best tennis yet.”

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