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Kim Clijsters, 36, who is starting her second comeback to professional tennis in Dubai next week, will not have an easy return, as she was handed a first-round tie against world number eight Kiki Bertens in Saturday’s draw. Clijsters, a Belgian mother-of-three, joked in Dubai that she was not receiving the full support of her family. “My son Jack is hoping I’ll lose early, so I’ll be home soon,” she told Belgian media. Bertens, 28, said earlier this year in a column for the BBC that “although I never really enjoyed watching tennis when I was young, Kim Clijsters was my role model”.

“I think it would be nice if I could play against her one day. I don’t know how I’d feel if that happened, but of course I’d want to beat her,” the Dutch player continued.

Clijsters, a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, has not competed on Tour since the 2012 US Open.

She retired for the first time in May 2007 and returned in August 2009 after the birth of her first child Jada. She went on to reclaim the number one ranking and win three more majors. Since retiring for a second time she has had sons, Jack and Blake.

She had initially scheduled her comeback for January to compete in the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the season, which she won in 2011.

But a knee injury forced her to change plans. She said that her first tournament would be in Monterrey, Mexico in March before bringing the date forward to the hard-court tournament in Dubai.

“There have been a few bumps but looking forward to returning to the match court,” she tweeted.

She told Belgian media this week that “things were going well in training” but added “I need matches the most”.

The tennis world in general has welcomed Clijsters’ return, even though in Belgium, some people are questioning her ability to return to the top level.

“After so many years, it’s the explosiveness that’s the hardest to catch up with,” said compatriot Justine Henin, who won seven Grand Slam titles.

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Four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters lost her first match in her second tennis comeback on Monday following a 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) defeat to Garbine Muguruza in the opening round of the WTA event in Dubai. Former world number one Clijsters, 36, had been out for seven years before the clash with world ranked 16 Muguruza, who reached the final of the Australian Open last month. Spain’s two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza will play one of Veronika Kudermetova and Dayana Yastremska in the next round after having to fight off a determined Clijsters in a tight second set following a simple first.

“I’ve seen her play when I started on the tour, she’s an incredible player,” Muguruza said of Clijsters.

“I was excited to be the first (opponent of the comeback). She played very well, especially in the second set.

“At the end. It was very tight. It was a fun match to play.

“I’m sure she’s going to get better and better, for sure she give me a lot of trouble. She played really well after all these years (away).”

Ninth seed Muguruza, 10 years younger than Clijsters, dominated early on as the veteran Belgian played her first official match since the 2012 US Open.

Mother of three Clijsters, who was playing in Dubai for the first time in her career, was on the back foot from the start, losing serve in the first game of both sets.

She found herself a two breaks down early in the second set after being swept aside in the first but fought back gamely to lead 5-4 after nine games.

However Muguruza took the set to a tie-break and emerged victorious with a service winner on her second match point after nearly an hour and three-quarters on court.

Earlier, Ons Jabeur beat Alison Riske 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-3 to earn a second-round date with top seed Simona Halep.

Tunisian Jabeur, ranked 45 in the world, saw off American Riske amid passionate home support for a player who trains in Dubai.

“I’m so grateful for the crowd, they really gave me energy. It feels like home here,” said Jabeur.

“Alison is tough, she made me run everywhere, I was down in the second set but got it back in the third,” added the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final last month at the Australian Open.

Barbora Strycova turned a corner after a poor start this season as she defeated US teenager Amanda Anisimova 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-4, winning only her second match of 2020.

The 18-year-old Anisimova managed 43 winners but was weighed down by 67 unforced errors in a struggle lasting just over two-and-a-half hours.

“It wasn’t really a great match from both sides, the balls were flying everywhere, it was a struggle to keep them on the court,” the 33-year-old Strycova said.

“But I got through the match and I’m happy to be in the second round.”

Strycova will face the winner between Su-Wei Hsieh and eighth-seed Petra Martic.

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