DUBAI 18 February 2020: Kim Clijsters produced plenty of her old magic as she played her first match on the WTA Tour in more than seven years, but she was defeated 6-2 7-6 by Garbine Muguruza in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.
After struggling a little to make a solid impression in the first set, the 36-year old really got into her stride in the second and came close to forcing a third. Her momentum was such that Muguruza could have been in serious trouble in a deciding set.
“I felt obviously the second set was a big difference compared to the first set,” said Clijsters. “My timing in the first set, my footing, just kept looking for it. I felt a few times it was there, then it would be off a few points. At times I felt like I was close. I was seeing the ball clear. Just started reading her game better, as well, getting used to her pace a little bit.
“Yeah, 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.
“I had a good feeling out there. I do feel a little bit of, I’m not going to say relief, but a feeling of the pace I can handle. Obviously she’s probably not the hardest hitter out there. There’s some girls that hit the ball a lot harder. I felt like I was able to go toe-to-toe with her from the baseline.”
Muguruza looked forward to the match and was impressed with what she saw.
“I mean, she’s an incredible player,” said the 2020 Australian Open finalist. “Excited to be the first one (to play her) on her third comeback, I think. I was just thinking that no matter who wins, it’s going to be a fun match to play because it’s a player that I think has been seven years away. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m excited to see what it’s going to be like’.
“I think she played very well, especially in the second set at the end. It was very tight. She has the tennis over there. I’m sure she’s going to get better and better, for sure give us a lot of trouble. I think she played really well after all these years.”
Ons Jabeur set up a second round meeting with top seed and former Dubai champion Simona Halep with a hard-fought 7-6 1-6 6-3 victory over Alison Riske. It’s a challenge she’s looking forward to.
“Hopefully it’s going to be a great match.,” said Jabeur. “She’s a great inspiration for many players. I’m lucky enough to play her. Hopefully now I’m setting up new mentality for myself. Hopefully I go for the win.”
The new mentality she speaks of can be a little elusive at times, and although it helped her reach two WTA Tour semi-finals last year and to last month become the first Arab woman to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, her weakness was partly to blame for her losing the second set against Riske so decisively.
“She was playing better,” said Jabeur after her two hour 13 minute victory. “(But) maybe my concentration was off for some time. She was playing good, but I couldn’t find the solution. Probably I couldn’t think good. I tried to call my coach to maybe discuss a little bit with him instead of going inside here (her head) crazy. Just sometimes the mind is not in the right place. If I’m really good in my mind, I think I put a good, like, motivation in my head, then it’s good, the results can be good.”
In another lengthy battle, former finalist Barbora Strycova needed two hours 34 minutes to edge past Amanda Anisimova 7-6 2-6 6-4, but Elise Mertens needed just 62 minutes to overwhelm Qiang Wang 6-3 6-0. Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-2.
“It was wonderful to see how well Kim Clijsters performed in what was her very first match in Dubai” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “She was able to place under pressure an opponent who just last month came very close to winning her third Grand Slam title, and it will be fascinating to see how well she does in the weeks and months ahead.”
Tournament Director Salah Tahlak added, “As well as seeing Kim Clijsters return to the game, tennis fans were able to enjoy an excellent performance by Ons Jabeur, who has become a major force on the WTA Tour. It is hoped that her continuing success will have a positive effect and encourage and inspire many more Arabic women to take up the game.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins with the WTA event which continues until 22nd February and is then followed between 24th and 29th February by the ATP tournament which features Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Roberto Bautista Agut.