Kim Clijsters wins in return from ankle injury
KEY BISCYANE, Fla. -- It took a set to get going, but once Kim Clijsters was on track, there was no stopping her in the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open on Wednesday.
Clijsters, who has not played since losing to eventual champion Victoria Azaernka in the semifinals of the Australian Open, has been out because of a left ankle sprain.
She showed no signs of movement issues in defeating Jarmila Gajdosova, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0, at the Crandon Park Tennis Center. Clijsters advances to play Julia Georges in the second round.
Clijsters knows she will have to play a lot better to advance deep into the tournament.
Everybody hits big these days, and those who play conservatively will be quickly punished. Clijsters' match experience and calm helped her overcome the overly aggressive Gajdosova. Now she needs to take her game up a notch, from the start, for No. 17 ranked Goerges."It was a matter of me finding the balance between consistency and aggressiveness," said Clijsters, a two-time winner of the Sony Ericsson Open. "It took me a while to get used to things, but I am happy with the way it ended."
Her layoff has plunged her ranking to No. 37 in the world. Clijsters, 28, still intends to retire after this season, but wants to play a full schedule including the Grand Slams and the Olympics.
She looked tentative and conservative in the opening set, not hitting out and frequently reacting defensively to Gajdosova's go-for-broke groundstroke approach. Gajdosova, an Australian who is ranked No. 45, placed her 110-mph serve well, frequently forcing Clijsters to stab returns.
Clijsters said her ankle feels fine but she needed time to get her bearings. Being away from competition for nearly two months, spending time at home being a mom to Jayda, who's now 3, and rehabbing the ankle put noticeable rust on her game.
She jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first, but Gajdosova took over to win five of the next six games to take the set. Clijsters committed 20 unforced errors and did not have a single forehand or backhand winner because she frequently sprayed her groundstrokes under Gajdosova's pressuring pace. Gadjosova was also sending the ball flying at times, trying to go for big winners, but had more success.
It was the first meeting between the two, and once Clijsters took measure of Gajdosova's serve and game, she made quick work of her in the final sets.
"I count on having the experience, but it's taking me longer to get used to it again," Clijsters said about the readjustment after the injury. "It was becoming tougher and, like today, I knew if I didn't improve my level in the second or third set, I could lose this match."
Clijsters' serve became a weapon again, going up from 63 percent of first serves won in the first, to 70 in the second and 75 in the final set. She started hitting with more consistency and depth, putting Gajdosova on the defensive for the first time. She couldn't handle Clijsters' pace and angles, and revealed signs of frustration like bouncing her racket off her right shoe after an error.
The real Clijsters came out to play, running down cross-court angles with her near-splits move, playing defense with topspin lobs for winners, and ending rallies with her flat and sharply cracked forehand.
She showed that her taped ankle was strong, through a nifty play of speed at the start of the third set. Gajdosova was serving, and went for a nasty-looking drop shot to end a rally at deuce. The ball was well-carved, kicking a bit backward and to the left after it bounced off the line on the high side of the left service box. It looked like a winner, but Clijsters changed the outcome.
She sprinted from the baseline, just catching the ball before it hit the ground, and neatly flicked a cross-court backhand for a winner. All Gajdosova could do was watch the ball go by, as the crowd gasped -- then cheered -- Clijsters' speed and her happy fist pump when she won the point.