The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, September 17, 2019

Kim's Clijsters announces her comeback -- the Asian swing begins -- and Little Chinese Cabbage

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Welcome back, Kim!

So, in theory, this was supposed to be a quiet week in the tennis world as we all recover from the U.S. Open.

Yes, okay, a quiet week in tennis means three tournaments taking place in Asia, but still. Relatively speaking, we could catch our breaths.

Kim Clijsters is making a comeback.

That’s right. Twelve years after she retired for the first time, and seven years after retiring for the second time, the four-time major champion and former No. 1 says she will return to the WTA Tour in 2020.

Now, let’s get the reasons to be skeptical out of the way first, because they are significant. When the Belgian returned for the first time, she was only 26 years old, and had one daughter, the adorable and incredibly photogenic Jada, who was the best trophy model of all time. Now, she is 36 years old and the mother of three. Before, she had a two-year layoff. This time, she’s been off the tour for seven years. So we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples when looking at comebacks.

But this comeback from Clijsters doesn’t have to be anywhere near as successful as her first return in order to be worth it. I mean, her first comeback was mind-boggingly great. She won the U.S. Open in just her third tournament back, beating Venus and Serena Williams along the way. She went on to win the U.S. Open again in 2010, and the Australian Open in 2011. She also won the WTA Tour Finals in 2010. She did it all.

I can go ahead and say with certainty that she won’t return to the top of the game that instantaneously this time. She is older, yes, but also, the WTA right now is rife with depth, which is going to make it harder to get through the earlier rounds of tournaments.

However, what the WTA is missing right now is consistency at the top of the game, and that’s something that Clijsters has experience executing. She’s a smart, crafty, athletic player, and if she can get her movement close to where it was in her prime, I think that Clijsters has a realistic shot at nabbing a title or two. This isn’t a knock on the talent level in the WTA, but it is just pointing out a fact that there are no dominating forces with a stranglehold over the trophies. There really does seem to be enough success to go around.

But whether she wins trophies or not, Clijsters’ mission is an easy one to root for. After being a full-time mom for so many years, she wants to put herself first. Her husband doesn’t have a full-time job anymore, so she’ll be able to take the family on the road with her. She sees Serena still competing at an elite level even though she’s older than Clijsters and a mother herself, and naturally wonders, why not me?

I’m excited to see Clijsters back on the court. And I’m especially excited to see a 36-year-old mother of three slide into her signature split.

This Week in Tennis

The Asian swing is underway! Last week:

  • Karolina Pliskova d. Petra Martic 6-3, 6-2 to win in Zhengzhou

  • Nao Hibino d. Misaki Doi 6-3, 6-2 to win in Hiroshima, and

  • Rebecca Peterson d. Elena Rybakina 6-2, 6-0 to win in Nanchang.

Pliskova had a disappointing Slam season, but because of her consistency on the WTA Tour she is close to catching Ash Barty at the No. 1 ranking, and has already qualified for the WTA championships in Shenzen.

I know I always say this, but you really have to listen to Clijsters’ interview with Courtney Nguyen on the WTA Insider Podcast.

Speaking of Nguyen and podcasts, No Challenges Remaining has a good wrap-up of the U.S. Open.

Simona Halep is reuniting with Darren Cahill, which is great news. Here’s a fun dive into their success as a team.

I love to watching Canada celebrating Bianca Andreescu.

Naomi Osaka has split with her coach of about six months, Jermaine Jenkins. Her father will coach her the rest of the season.

Clijsters isn’t the only player making a comeback: Frenchwoman Tatiana Golovin, who last played in 2008, is returning to the WTA Tour as well.

This week there are three tournaments once again!

  • Osaka is the top seed at the Toray Pan Pacific Open,

  • Elina Svitolina is the top seed at the Guangzhou International Women’s Open, and

  • Ekaterina Alexandrova is technically the top seed at the Korea Open, but she’s actually the No. 2 seed; Maria Sakkari, the actual No. 1 seed, withdrew after the draw was made.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Elina Svitolina meets the Chinese press

Svitolina was in Zhengzhou last week — she lost to Mladenovic in the quarterfinals — and because she was one of the top seeds, she spoke to press before the tournament began. The “questions in Chinese” portion of this press conference is just a delight, so I wanted to share. Introducing, Little Chinese Cabbage. (H/T ASAP Sports)

Q. My question is would you like, would you please introduce your performance in China and what is your expectation here for this tournament?
ELINA SVITOLINA: Going into any tournament I don’t have expectations because expectations is some extra pressure which you put on yourself, which there is no need, because there is enough already going on, enough tough matches, enough tough opponents that you face. So just for me it’s always been, for the years that I played on tour, every match that I step or every match I step on the court I just give everything what I have and if it’s not meant to be you have to take it and move forward. That’s how I try to take every tournament. Every tournament I play is another chance to improve my game.

Q. I noticed that you have posted a food picture on the social media. It’s a noodle. And we want to know your comments on the Chinese food and to be more specific have you paid any specific attention to what you have?
ELINA SVITOLINA: No, I don’t have any specific, but I love noodles and of course in China that’s one of the meals that I love to eat because they do it so well. Almost anywhere in the world you cannot find it, so that’s why China is great for it and I try to eat as much as I can while I’m here.

Q. This one is about your girlfriend — your boyfriend, your boyfriend — sorry about that.
ELINA SVITOLINA: My husband, my boyfriend.

Q. And they noticed that recently you two opened a social media account and they are wondering that in the future maybe you would play in the mixed doubles and maybe the fans would like to see that.
ELINA SVITOLINA: We actually were talking about it a few days ago before I left to China and it’s actually, we would like to play, but unfortunately you can play only the Grand Slams and the Grand Slams is, you know, the events where you want to perform really well. And again it’s very, he’s been struggling with injuries a lot before, so even if I’m going to make him play with me, I’ll have too much pressure to take this risk for him, because you never know when your career is going to end. And you want to perform as good as you can and the Grand Slams is one of the tournaments that for sure it’s the ones you want to do very good in. So for now I would say no.

Q. The Chinese fans gave you a nickname that’s called maybe like little Chinese cabbage. First off, you’re pretty, so it’s a nickname for you.
ELINA SVITOLINA: Interesting. Very interesting. Chinese cabbage?


THE MODERATOR: Little Chinese cabbage.

ELINA SVITOLINA: But it means what?

THE MODERATOR: It means first you have a good swing, your swing is very good, and you’re also very lovely and gentle, so…


Q. And it’s quite delicious.


THE MODERATOR: That’s kind of what people eat daily.

ELINA SVITOLINA: Okay. Let’s stop here. So what’s the question? Sorry. What was the question?

Q. So what’s your feeling about this nickname and that?

ELINA SVITOLINA: Well it’s very unexpected, I would say. I don’t know. It’s very nice as probably it is nice nickname, so thank you very much. I have lots of fans in China and Asia in general, so I get lots of small gifts and all the attention, so thank you very much for this and for the nickname too.


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports QUEEN OF ALL MEDIA
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.