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Alix Ramsay Writes About Kim Clijsters Return To Tennis • We All Can Hardly Wait • She’s Been Missed

Photo by Kim Clijsters via Facebook

It is not often that we can say this, but it does seem as if Wimbledon has missed a trick.

We pale people who live on the damp little rock known as the UK (at best, we are pink and scrubbed; at worst we are grey and verging on the translucent. Sunshine does not feature much in our lives and we do not tan so much as rust), are not very good at producing tennis players but we do know how to run a good tournament. And Wimbledon is the finest of all tournaments.

Not only do the good people of the All England Club know how to get a grand slam wrapped up in 13, night-session-free days, they know how to make a couple of quid while they are at it. Wimbledon is so successful, it can print its own money (rumours that Tim Henman, complete with crown and sceptre, will appear on the new £50 note have been strongly denied by sources close to the club. Tim, alas, was unavailable for comment). But despite all of that, Wimbledon has overlooked its greatest asset: its rooves.

The two coverings for the Centre and No.1 courts are awfully impressive and, yes, they are very good at keeping the rain out. But that is not their main role in life: they are there to keep Kim Clijsters out of retirement.

Every time Kim retires to the bosom of her family, vowing never to lift a racket in earnest again, Wimbledon bungs another lid on another court, invites her along for the “test event” and, before you can say “dames en heren, ze is terug!”, Kim is making another comeback. It began in 2009 with the Centre Court roof and now, 10 years later and seven years after the last grand farewell, she is back again. This time, it was the No.1 court roof that enticed her back.

The No.1 court test event, was, unbeknownst to everyone who watched it, actually the Kim Clijsters test event. For months, she had been training and practising but keeping her plans of another comeback shrouded in secrecy. A film crew followed her progress in order that they had footage of the process should the comeback actually happen, but no one dared breathe a word about it.

And then, last week, when we were all recovering from the US Open, Kim came clean. She was planning to return to the WTA tour at the start of next year in Australia. No one had seen that one coming.

Sitting watching the likes of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka make their returns from childbirth, commentating on their matches and seeing them juggle motherhood with the business of being an elite athlete whetted Kim’s appetite once more. She had done that in the past, and done it well. After all, three of her four grand slam titles were won in her first comeback after the birth of her daughter Jada, and she was two years younger than Serena – hell, why not give it a whirl.

“I’m 36 years old,” Kim told reporters last week. “I know in four years I’m not going to be able to do this challenge. I’ve always followed my instincts. I was very young when I retired to have my first daughter and came back. To do it now is a challenge for me. I’m not afraid of it. I want to see how far I can push myself and what level I can get to – and embrace all the positives and negatives along the way.

“The timing was right because I felt like it fitted in with my family life. Our three children go to school so I have time during the day. Jada was excited. She said: “Mum, if you want to try then go for it.”

Most working mums struggle with the daily juggling act of caring for the kids, running the household (even if the other half does help with the chores) and trying to get to work on time. Kim is no different. As the mother of three kids – Jada, 11; Jack, 6 and Blake who will turn three in October – and with a tennis academy to run, she often found that once everyone else had been taken care of, she had forgotten about herself.

“Especially since the last birth, I worked out a bit here and there but it was nothing consistent going on,” she told the WTA Insider Podcast. “It was whenever I had time, between the kids and the academy. Just balancing everything, I just didn’t feel like I had the time to even just take proper care of myself.

“These last few months have been tough, but I feel like I’ve had more energy these last six months or so than I’ve had in the last two years because I’m taking care of myself better. I’m not putting everything aside or towards the children, I’m actually also giving myself some time and it’s something that I kind of forgot about a little bit. 

“Even if I don’t make it, this whole process has been so worth it for me to get back into a good routine. 

“Let’s see if I can get my body in shape to play tennis at a level where I would like it to be at, that I have in mind of where I would like to get to, and see if it’s possible. To see, first of all, if my body is capable of even doing that.”

Although the goal is to come back in January, Kim is flexible about dates. If she does not feel physically ready to compete at tour level, she will wait until the time is right. And as for a schedule, that will depend on the family. As a former grand slam champion and world No.1, she can ask for wildcards anytime and anywhere and she is not obliged to play a set number of events. It’s all up to Kim. And her husband Brian. And Jada. And Jack. And Blake. But apart from them, it’s all about Kim.

“We’ll see where it will end,” she said. “But it’s exciting and I’m happy with being able to do this and that, so far, it doesn’t influence my life as a mother, as a wife. I feel like so far it’s only given me extra energy, and a challenge, a purpose.”

And if, in a few months, she is still undecided whether this has all been such a good idea, Wimbledon will just have to put another roof on another court and run another test event. That usually does the trick.

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