Clijsters makes comeback look easy

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The amicable Kim Clijsters has quickly returned to elite status on the WTA Tour.

It took the Belgian star only two tournaments to bounce back from a career-threatening injury and produce a huge championship, which she did last week at the $2.1 million Pacific Life Open.

Appearing in only her second event of 2005, the former world No. 1 Clijsters ran the table at the 11-day, 96-player Pac Life tourney, capped by a three-set upset victory over current world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in the final at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. In the semis, Clijsters seemingly benefited when her opponent, U.S. Open and French Open runner-up Elena Dementieva, was slowed by a hip flexor strain.

In the process of titling in Cali, Clijsters became lowest-ranked player ever to capture a Tier I WTA event, as she headed to Indian Wells at No. 133 on the planet due to her inactivity over the past 12 months. Her lucrative title jumped her up 95 spots to No. 38.

Kim Clijsters
It took Kim Clijsters only two tournaments to bounce back from a career-threatening injury and produce a huge championship.
Clijsters injured her left wrist at last year's Pac Life tournament, and the injury wound up requiring surgery, forcing her to miss a majority of the 2004 campaign. The athletic Belgian competed in a mere six WTA events last season, going 18-2 with a pair of titles and a runner-up finish to compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne at the '04 Aussie Open.

During her hiatus from the tour, Clijsters broke up with fiance Lleyton Hewitt, as tennis' power couple had been scheduled to wed early this year. Hewitt has since moved on to Aussie soap star Rebecca Cartwright, who accepted a marriage proposal from the former world No. 1 back in January.

The four-time Grand Slam runner-up Clijsters is already 9-1 this year, with her lone setback coming against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals of the Diamond Games in her native Belgium last month.

At Indian Wells, the resurgent 21-year-old star won seven straight matches, dropping only two sets in the California desert (14-2), en route to career title number 22. It marked her first championship in 13 months, with her last one coming at the 2004 Diamond Games in Antwerp.

The improbable victory at Indian Wells was worth $332,000 to the 5-foot-8 Bree native, who also clipped Davenport in the 2003 Pac Life final and was the runner-up there in 2001. Clijsters' career money is now over the $9 million mark ($9,249,091).

Clijsters enjoyed great success at Indian Wells, but the field was sans several stars, namely Henin-Hardenne, Serena and Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati.

Clijsters' countrywoman Henin-Hardenne will see her first action of 2005 at the NASDAQ-100 Open, which commences Wednesday in Miami. Henin-Hardenne has also been plagued by physical problems over the last several months, mainly an energy-sapping illness that sidelined the diminutive star for a good portion of 2004. She has yet to play in 2005, however, because of a knee injury which prevented her from defending her title at the Aussie Open two months ago.

Like Clijsters, the three-time major titlist Henin-Hardenne is also a former world No. 1. Three of Clijsters' four Grand Slam final setbacks have come at the hands of the sweet-swinging J H-H.

Clijsters and the currently No. 40 Henin-Hardenne should renew their rivalry in the very near future, perhaps at the so-called "Fifth Slam" in Miami over the next two weeks.

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