After a seven-year break from WTA Tour tennis, Kim Clijsters didn’t gain a breakthrough win, but she did break the ice by returning to the tour on Monday in Dubai.
Garbine Muguruza endured a temporary break of focus — and the loss of a double break lead in the second set — but she didn’t break apart.
There was plenty of breaking in this match, but neither player left the court broken. Just the opposite. Both players — owning multiple major championships — should feel better about their tennis after this rare Monday February showcase.
It isn’t often that a Monday match in February lights up #TennisTwitter, but this was the exception which proves the rule. The tennis world wanted to see what Kim Clijsters was capable of in her return to the big leagues.
The fact that Kiki Bertens was initially scheduled to play Clijsters in Round 1 made the Clijsters return story even bigger. Bertens then pulled out of the tournament, though, which temporarily threw a bucket of cold water on this anticipated moment.
Then, however, when Muguruza became the replacement for Bertens, the global buzz shifted into overdrive once again. The hype didn’t have a chance to build, since the matchup was announced at the last minute, but diehard tennis fans had to set aside time to see what would happen.
All told, they had to love what they saw… and not just from Clijsters.
By all means, Clijsters was the center of the show on Monday in Dubai. How would she look in her first match since her second retirement from tennis in 2012? In 2012, Aga Radwanska reached a Wimbledon final and Maria Sharapova was the best clay-court player in the world.
Clijsters didn’t win the match, but she can clearly still play big-league ball. Her forehand zoomed through the court. Her familiar hardcourt slide-and-split was still in evidence. When she had time to set up her shot, she clocked the ball.
The products of rust were there, of course: double faults, deficient timing on the return of serve, and sluggish movement. Yet, everyone — Clijsters most of all — knows that regaining rhythm will take some time. It won’t completely return.
Clijsters has to be happy with her ballstriking. As long as the other pieces of a tennis player’s toolbox can round into form, and as Clijsters gets more match play, she will not be an easy opponent in 2020. It’s way too early to talk about her ceiling, but her floor is not especially low. She can build from this.
Muguruza, meanwhile, took charge in the first set and responded well after Clijsters won five of six games to take a 5-4 lead in the second set. The 2019 iteration of Muguruza might have wilted. The 2020 version which made the Australian Open final held firm and won a tight tiebreaker.
Muguruza managed moments really well. She keeps offering signs that she is a stronger, tougher player. If this is the player who shows up 85 percent of the time in 2020, Garbine is headed for a big season.
Clijsters has to be happy. Muguruza has to be happy. Tennis fans probably are happy. It was a happy Monday in Dubai. Take your happy Mondays whenever they emerge.