April 3, 2010

It's Good to Be Back

A lot of things can change in three years.

That's how long it's been since Kim Clijsters has been ranked in the top ten of women's tennis. Not since she retired after Warsaw in 2007 has she reached that elite position. But come Monday morning, she'll be right back in a place where she's so at home, thanks to winning her second title at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

The 2005 champ had played some spectacular tennis all week, only losing one set to countrywoman Justine Henin in the semifinals. But she was even cleaner and crisper today against three-time winner Venus Williams, a woman who was riding a fifteen-match, two-trophy streak. I had even given Williams the advantage, arguing that her momentum and her Miami following would push her to victory.

But Clijsters was just too good on Saturday. The fourteenth seed needed less than an hour to watch her opponent spray thirty errors and win fewer than half her service points. With a decisive 6-2, 6-1 score, Kim won her second championship of the year, and her third since returning from early retirement.

Not bad for a few months' work.

When she returns she'll be in familiar company -- more than a couple players have remained forces on Tour while Kim was gone. Williams and her sister Serena had actually dropped out of the top ten at the time of her retirement but weren't too far out of the mix, and Svetlana Kuznetzova and Elena Dementieva were forces then as they are now. And of course Henin, newly back to the rankings herself, was #1 then and will likely be making her own run at the top shortly.

But there are also a couple of newbies in the mix -- nineteen-year-old Caroline Wozniacki took her spot as the #2 woman in the world with her performance at Indian Wells. And youngsters like Victoria Azarenka and Aggie Radwanska have scored their share of big wins in the last year. So it's not entirely familiar territory for Kim. She'll face a lot of challenges from fresh talent with different kinds of games. Then again, she's already faced her first test on the grandest of courts and passed with flying colors.

Something tells me Kim's got what it takes to stick it out in this largely untested environment. Healthier and fitter than I remember her, I wouldn't be surprised if she claws her way back to #1 in the world the way she's playing.

And if she does, the other girls -- both the ones on the comeback trail and the ones on the rise -- are going to have to watch out!

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