Roger would be Roger Federer, who will turn 39 in August. Still ranked No. 3 after reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open, he is one of several enduring champions who helped Clijsters believe that another successful comeback was possible.
She has come back before: In 2009, after the birth of her daughter Jada, she won the 2009 United States Open as a wild card, and Jada helped her celebrate in Arthur Ashe Stadium, in one of the more touching moments in tennis history. Clijsters went on to win the 2010 U.S. Open and 2011 Australian Open, and she returned to No. 1 before retiring again in September 2012 to support her husband Brian Lynch’s career, expand their family and let her injuries heal.
It is a grinding, physical game at this level, full of high-impact rallies and significant jet lag, and Clijsters will try to manage it after several years away and with a host of new personal demands.
She will pick her spots judiciously, helped by the fact that the WTA now allows unlimited wild cards for former No. 1 players. She is not required to play a full schedule, but plans on competing next month in Monterrey, Mexico, and Indian Wells, Calif.
A fifth Grand Slam singles title seems like too much to ask for, considering all the talented contenders from different generations currently in the women’s game. But based on Monday’s evidence, a deep run is not out of the question if Clijsters can remain healthy, dial in her second serve and readjust to playing tough back-to-back matches.
“A couple of times I was watching the rallies and rubbing my eyes and saying, ‘This is like 12 years ago,’” Shriver said. “It’s such a different conversation than it could have been with what happened in the second set. And so this continues in my mind to be one of the most intriguing times in women’s tennis in the 40-some-odd years I’ve been involved. It’s the mix of people, ages, geography, everything. There are so many great stories.”
Clijsters returning in style certainly would qualify as a great one. For now, she is 0-1 but off to a promising start.