Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters, 37 and mom of three, accepts Miami Open wild card

Michelle Kaufman
·4 min read

Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters, twice retired and now a 37-year-old mother of three, accepted a wild card to play in the Miami Open tennis tournament, which begins March 22 at Hard Rock Stadium.

It will be her first time back since 2012. She won the event in 2005 and 2010.

The affable Belgian, one of the most popular players on tour and a four-time Grand Slam champion, made her return to the tour last February after a seven-year hiatus; but her comeback was interrupted by the pandemic.

She initially got the itch to come back while playing exhibition matches with fellow TV commentators and other retired players.

“A few years ago, Martina [Navratilova] said to me, `You shouldn’t be playing with us. You should still be on tour.’ And I was like, `Hmmm…maybe I should give it a try,’,” Clijsters said by phone Monday from her home in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband Brian Lynch, a former pro basketball player, and their children Jada (13), Jack (7) and Blake (4).

“I’ve always loved to play tennis. Every time somehow a little bit of that competitiveness on court got triggered. It would go away when I would go home and be with the kids. I’d talk about it with my husband and he’d laugh. And then he said, `If you want to really do it, you should start now. Don’t wait too long.’’’

She kept her comeback plans to herself for six to eight months to make sure she was mentally and physically ready. Clijsters was also determined to keep her family routines as intact as possible.

“It didn’t really affect my family because all my training was during school hours,” she said. “I wasn’t traveling much. It didn’t impact anyone’s life but mine. The kids see me in the morning when they go to school and they see me when they come home from school. Their afternoon snack is prepared.”

She resumed her career in February 2020 in Dubai, where she lost a close two-set match to Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza. She also lost her second match to a top-20 player, Johanna Konta, in Monterrey, Mexico.

Despite the losses, she was encouraged by her level of play and thrilled to be back on the court. Clijsters had great success during her first comeback in 2009, when Jada was a year old. She won three Grand Slam titles over the following year and a half – the 2009 and 2010 U.S. Opens, and the 2011 Australian Open. She is one of just three moms to win a Grand Slam, joining Margaret Court (1973) and Evonne Goolagong (1980).

She retired again in 2012.

Clijsters said she has a completely different mentality now than she did in 2003, when she held the No. 1 ranking.

“Back then I only worried about myself,” she said. “Now it’s the kids, like `Oh, before I leave, I want to make sure I have the freezer filled with a bunch of food so when I’m not here, Brian can take out the soups.’

“Back then I played as if my life was depending on it. Whereas now, this is something I want to try to do, but if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I just want to give it a shot and see what is the most I can get out of it. I would love to get to the second week of a Grand Slam. I have friends in Belgium who say, `Before I’m 40 I want to run a marathon.’ This is the same for me, a challenge.”

Miami Open tournament director James Blake is delighted she is back.

“She is a tremendous player and an even better person,” Blake said. “Plus, it’s not often you get the opportunity to see someone who has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame compete at an event of this level.”

Clijsters said she always loved the energy on Key Biscayne, the longtime tournament site before the move to Miami Gardens in 2019. Asked if she can still do her trademark splits, Clijsters laughed and replied: “Yes, but getting up might be a little harder than it used to be.”