INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The third stop on Kim Clijsters’s comeback tour is the biggest one yet.
She’s back – at the BNP Paribas Open.
Back when she won it in 2003 and 2005, it was called the Pacific Life Open.
And back when she reached the final in 2001 as a 17-year-old kid and faced Serena Williams in that notorious final, it was called the “Tennis Masters Series Indian Wells”.
Clijsters is back on a wild card. Her last appearance as a player was in 2011, when she reached the fourth round and retired during a match against Marion Bartoli.
She looked good – if rusty – during the first two matches of her comeback against Garbiñe Muguruza in Dubai, and Johanna Konta last week in Monterrey.
She can only hope for a slightly more fortuitous draw here. And the fact that the top 32 players in the draw have a first-round bye might offer her a little of a break.
Here’s what she looked like in practice Saturday.
A woman on a mission
Clijsters practiced in Stadium 2 Saturday – a perfect gem of a tennis venue that wasn’t even a gleam in Larry Ellison’s eye when she last played.
The way she was absolutely pounding the ball, it’s no wonder she was itching to get off the practice court and back on the match court even if she might not yet be 100 per cent fit yet.
She was driving herself pretty hard during this practice session.
And when she missed a few – it was though she pushed the reset button and hit the ball even harder.
It reverberated all around the stadium.
The early part of the practice involved hitting every ball right down the middle of the court – and deep.
There was an orange cone there for reference. A lot of players who do drills like that (often it’s a can of tennis balls instead of a cone) can go a considerable length of time without hitting it. Sometimes they never hit it.
Clijsters knocked the cone away twice in the space of about two minutes.
A fairly big group still active
A quick look at the 2005 draw, the year Clijsters last won it, reveals a surprising number of players among the 96 are still active.
Sesil Karatantcheva is still rolling around somewhere. Alexa Glatch, who was out of the game for several years because of injury, has now mounted a comeback of her own. Samantha Stosur, the No. 29 seed that year, is still kicking. Svetlana Kuznetsova was the No. 5 seed and reached the quarterfinals.
Maria Sharapova was the No. 3 seed that year, losing to Davenport in the semifinals. She, as we all know, just retired.
No. 14 seed Tatiana Golovin, who retired very young, made some moves towards a comeback in late 2019. Barbora Strycova is still very much around, and makes up the best doubles team in the world with Hsieh Su-Wei.
Kveta Peschke, now 45, and Katarina Srebotnik are still around as doubles specialists.
That doesn’t include Serena and Venus Williams, of course, who were playing back in 2005 but obviously were not at the tournament.
Clijsters defeated Conchita Martinez in quarterfinals (now the coach of Muguruza). She beat Elena Dementieva in the semis, and then Lindsay Davenport in the final. All of them are moms now (Clijsters has three, Davenport has four).