Clijsters encouraged despite defeat by Muguruza

  • Matt Trollope

Kim Clijsters lost the first match of her highly-anticipated comeback against Garbine Muguruza in Dubai, but she pushed the Spaniard all the way in an entertaining clash on Monday night.

Muguruza beat the four-time Grand Slam champion 6-2 7-6(6) to progress to the second round of the hard-court tournament.

But the continuation of the Australian Open finalist’s impressive start to 2020 - she has won 12 of her 14 matches - was overshadowed by the return of Clijsters, who showed encouraging signs in her first professional match since the 2012 US Open.

Now 36 and the mother of three children, the Belgian shrugged off rust to push the world No.16 in a physically intense battle, coming within two points of extending the match to a third set.

"I had a good feeling out there,” Clijsters said.

"I do feel a little bit of… I'm not going to say relief, but a feeling of the pace I can handle.

"Second set, I felt I was really in the match. I felt like for a while I was dominating some of the points.

“I think that's a good feeling to have, knowing the way I started the first set and then the way I was able to get back into that second set, with the type of tennis I played, it's something that is the positive about this match. 

“I'll take that with me for the next matches."

Early on, it was one-way traffic as the in-form Muguruza controlled the contest.

Several forehands from Clijsters flew long while her double-fault tally mounted; she finished the match in double digits. 

When the Belgian sprayed a backhand wide, she trailed 6-2 3-0.

Yet Clijsters has a history of quickly rediscovering form after a long lay-off.

"I do feel a little bit of… I'm not going to say relief, but a feeling of the pace I can handle."
Kim Clijsters

She missed the bulk of 2004 due to a wrist injury before rebounding to win Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back in 2005, when ranked outside the top 100.

When she made her return to the game in 2009 after first retiring in 2007, she won the US Open as an unranked wildcard in just her third tournament back.

This is a comeback of an altogether different kind, given her age and the time she has spent away. Yet again, she displayed her uncanny ability to almost immediately summon world-class ball striking. 

She and Muguruza slugged out a series of entertaining rallies, and Clijsters ultimately broke the Spaniard to level at 4-4 before saving break points to push ahead 5-4.

Her groundstroke speed matched the powerful Muguruza, and Clijsters even demonstrated her trademark sliding split as she lunged to reach wide forehands.

Kim Clijsters demonstrates her trademark splits move during her first-round match in Dubai against Garbine Muguruza. (Getty Images)

Despite the large crowd growing in volume as Clijsters threatened to take over the match, Muguruza remained focused and closed out victory in one hour and 37 minutes. 

Muguruza was only just starting to emerge on tour in 2012 in what was Clijsters’ last season before her second retirement, and admitted she was impressed by what she saw in the wildcard.

"I think she played very well, especially in the second set at the end. It was very tight," Muguruza said.

"I think this is just special because I didn't know how (she) going to play. I know she can play incredible. She did at some point play incredible level. I haven't seen her play in so long, so it's like, 'Okay, what's going to happen?'

"I'm sure she's going to get better and better, for sure, give us a lot of trouble.”