Kim Clijsters made a spectacular return to action in Cincinnati yesterday, the former world No 1 winning her long-awaited comeback match against an in-form Marion Bartoli. The Frenchwoman and world No 13 Bartoli had excelled in winning the recent Stanford Bank Classic, beating Venus Williams in the final, and was expected to provide too stiff a test for the Belgian, who had been off the courts since May 2007.
Clijsters emphatically dispelled fears of ring-rustiness, however, by stamping her authority on the encounter from the outset, winning the first four games to set the tone for a comfortable 6-4, 6-3 first round victory. "I surprised myself a little with the way I started," said a delighted Clijsters, who next meets the experienced Swiss Patty Schnyder with the winner likely to face the French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"I kept fighting and trying to stay focused. I felt good." A gracious Bartoli was astonished by the standard of play reached by the Belgian so soon into her comeback. "I guess the level of play is inside the top 10 already, I can tell you that," she said. "The way she was moving and hitting, and her physical strength after two years without playing, it's just amazing." Clijsters, 26, who became a mother 18 months ago, will move on to the Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto next week in preparation for the US Open which four years ago provided her with the biggest among her 34 career singles titles.
Another former world No 1 hoping to make up for lost time this week is Rafael Nadal, the powerful Spaniard who has not been seen on court since relinquishing his French Open crown in dramatic fashion at the hands of Sweden's Robin Soderling. Nadal, who failed to defend his cherished Wimbledon title because of tendinitis in both knees, took his first tentative steps back into action in a doubles match in Montreal before beginning his challenge in the Masters tournament there.
Nadal, who has warned his supporters that he does not expect great things from his week in Canada, partnered his coach Francisco Roig to record an encouraging doubles win over the Serbian pairing of Novak Djokovic and Dusan Vemic. "It's great to be back and I had a lot of fun out there," said Nadal, who is also hoping to recapture his form in time for the US Open which begins on August 31. email@example.com