Opinion: Don’t bet against Kim Clijsters in comeback

The idea sounds ludicrous at first. Kim Clijsters trying to make a comeback after seven years away from tennis, at the age of 36.

When you think about it, though, why not? And, more accurately, who better?

At one point, 36 was considered ancient for a tennis player. Particularly a female tennis player. But we are not even a week removed from Serena Williams playing for the U.S. Open title at 37, the fourth time in the last six Grand Slams that she’s reached the final.

Williams didn’t win the U.S. Open, just as she came up short in the other three finals. But that’s looking more and more like a mental block than a reflection of her ability to compete with a younger set that is playing bigger, faster and bolder than ever.

There’s no reason it can’t be the same for Clijsters, who announced Thursday that she will return to the WTA in 2020.

The four-time major winner's strength was always in her ability to make matches come to her. She was never the biggest hitter, but her flexibility and quickness – both in speed and reactions – more than made up for it.

“There are times during the U.S. Open when I see some of the tennis I think, 'No way, that’s not where I’m going to be able to get to’ because it just looks like they’re hitting the ball so much harder,” Clijsters said in an interview with the WTA Insider Podcast.

“But I’ve always had that in me. I always saw everybody as, 'Oh my God, they move so well' or they hit the ball so hard or they have so much variety in their game,” she said. “And then when I stood across from them I felt OK. It actually doesn't feel as hard, the ball doesn't feel as powerful as when I saw it on TV or something.” 

Besides, Clijsters knows how to make a comeback.

Two years after winning her first major, the 2005 U.S. Open, Clijsters retired to start a family. But after having daughter Jada in February 2008, she was back on the tour 18 months later.

Three tournaments into her comeback, she won the 2009 U.S. Open, beating Williams, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in the process.

Clijsters would win two more majors and reclaim the No. 1 ranking before retiring again in 2012.  

“Over the years I sometimes played with the idea (of coming back) but then I was like, `No this is impossible,’” said Clijsters, who also has two sons, now 5 and 2.

That’s the true beauty of sport, though. We play sports to push ourselves. We watch sports to see limits tested and boundaries broken. Nothing is more compelling than seeing something once considered impossible brought within reach.

Maybe Clijsters won’t succeed in the conventional sense. Maybe she won’t win another major or make it back to the top five. Maybe she won’t even win a match in a Grand Slam.

But she’s testing herself and, in the process, giving all of us a glimpse at what’s possible if we’re only bold enough to try.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

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