Former No. 1 Kim Clijsters will unretired, again

Kim Clijsters
Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

The 2019 US Open is over, it is done, until 2020, when Flushing Meadows opens up again.

Let’s start with the women, those who went deep, and those were the good players who lost, and who were very disappointed.

But first, the three-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters announced that she will return, on court, even though she is 36 years old. Of course, she loves to play, and that is why she will return in January. 

She retired seven years ago, she won two US Opens and the Australian Open. She has won so many events, “only” 41 titles. She won on different surfaces, but when she competed, she liked the hardcourts much better.

Clijsters was always very fast, side-to-side especially, her forehand and her backhand was hard and deep, and towards the end, she mixed it up better. She is bright, she can focus and she can really think, on court and off. She now has three children, and they are old enough to see her watch the match. 

But can Clijsters win another Grand Slam? Sure, she can, but it will be difficult, as the young players have become better, and they will take on anyone. They won’t be afraid. Just like the Belgian, when she start playing on the court, she will go for the lines and slide so close to the ground. And off the court, she will laugh, because when she started at the WTA 20 years ago, she would always smile. She will do it again.

We already covered Bianca Andreescu, who won the 2019 US Open title. She is just so powerful and thoughtful. As I said before, if she stays healthy, she will reach No. 1 early next year…

In the semis, she out-hit Belinda Bencic, which was a little bit surprising, because I always thought the Swiss would win the title. When she is feeling great, she can swing away, left and right, and she can be very patient. But she isn’t quite there yet. There are times when she gets frustrated, and she over-thinks. We will know next year, but as long she doesn’t get hurt, she will be right there again.

There are two players who have a chance to becoming No. 1, the No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and the No. 3 Elina Svitolina, but they have yet to win a Grand Slam yet. So many times, it looked like the huge-hitter Pliskova was going to grab it, and then she falls back. She can look fantastic at times, but at the majors, she checks out at some point. ..
Svitolina is younger than Pliskova, so perhaps next year the Ukranian will reach the final at a major. She reached the semis last week, and it looked like she was going to seriously push Serena Williams, but the American destroyed her. Yes, Williams can play terrific, and she did during the match, but Svitolina was very erratic. She has to keep her head up …

The former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki lost pretty early in the third round, losing to Andreescu. At the end of the tournament, then we knew that the Canadian is a darn good player, but if you look at this year, Wozniacki hasn’t won much. Clearly, she has been hurt over the past year, but before that, the 29-year-old played all the time. Every week, just abpuy. Eventually, her body begins to break down. How long will Wozniacki will continue to play, or retire? That is very hard to say. She just got married this season (to the former NBA basketball player, the American David Lee), so maybe she will want to have a child. She has always loved playing tennis. She is sort of the same with Clijsters: they both just want to crush the ball, as a winner, of course.

It should be mentioned that the No. 1 Ash Barty has had a fantastic year, and I would think that she could finish No. 1, in October, when it ends. Yes, she lost at the US Open, put she also won Roland Garros. That was gigantic, and be with her as the first important step in her career.

Top 30s in 2018: Women, 10-6

Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova continues to be a force.

No. 10: Daria Kasatkina
The 21-year-old Russian played substantially better in 2018, reaching the final of Dubai [upsetting Garbine Muguruza] and Indian Wells [stunning Venus Williams] and winning her first title in Moscow. Towards the end, she was a little tired, but that happens a lot when they are very young and never stop. Kasatkina isn’t that tall, but she is agile and quick. If she keeps it up, at some point, she will reach the top 5.

No. 9: Kiki Bertens
The smart Netherlander has finally changed things, doing more with her shots and mixing up. She has not been great at the Slams throughout her career, but this season, she won Charleston, Cincinnati and Seoul. That is more than pretty good. In the WTA Final, she beat Angie Kerber and Naomi Osaka to reach the semis, and then she lost a terrific three-setter to Elina Svitolina. Next year, the 27-year-old should go much deeper at the Slams, by being ambitious and out-hitting her opponents.

No. 8: Karolina Pliskova
There are times when the Czech is focused and concentrating. However, there are also moments when she is crabby and she won’t settle in. When you watch her, and she is playing great, you are thinking that without a doubt, she will win a Grand Slam. But she has yet to, not because she can’t beat anyone, but because when it is super close, she pulls back and misses it. However, two years ago at the US Open, in the final, she played very well, upsetting Venus and Serena Williams,
but she went down 6-4 in the third against Angie Kerber. That was very respectable.

This year, Pliskova won Stuttgart and Tokyo. Plus, she reached the quarters pretty much every month. But, she has lost against a number of fine players, like Simona Halep, Vika Azarenka, Svitolina and more. Pliskova is very good and she has a gigantic serve, forehand and backhand. So what’s stopping her from grabbing a Slam in 2019 other then collapsing at the end of matches? Nothing.

No. 7: Petra Kvitova
The happy-go-lucky player loves to play. The good thing is that now she is faster and she can play for hours and hours. When she is on top of the ball, and nails a winner, she will scream in delight. Here is the crazy thing about Kvitova: this year, she won St. Petersburg, Doha, Prague, Madrid and Birmingham. Pretty good, huh? However, at the Grand Slams, she was unable to reach to the second week. As she has said, that was not good, at all. She has won two titles at Wimbledon and she has reached the semis at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. Because of that, in 2019, she will have another chance to go very far at the most important events. She is swift, very powerful and can throttle the ball. As long as she is patient and healthy, she will be in the chase to take of many of them.

No. 6: Sloane Stephens
While she couldn’t win a Slam this year, still, she went deep a lot, although at certain moments, she frozen and lost. Without a doubt, when she is on top of it, she will be so steady, move the ball around until she has a really good shot to touch the lines. She won Miami in April, beating Muguruza, Kerber, Azarenka and Jelena Ostapenko. Then on clay, she was a little bit lost, but somehow she reached the final at Roland Garros. She was on fire, winning the first set against Simon Halep, but in the next two sets, the Romanian rose up and Stephens disappeared. The 2017 US Open champion lost in the quarters this year. In the fall, in 2017, she didn’t play well in the fall. Then, she decided to push herself, and that worked, as she reaching the WTA Final, beating Pliskova in the semis, but she lost to Svitolina in three sets. Overall, she continued to show she is an elite player, but the 25-year-old still has to improve a few more things, like her second serve and net play. If she does, in 2019, Stephens will win another major. I promise that.

Serena won’t play this year, so who will be No. 1?

Kerber, Pliskova, Cibulkova, Halep and more

The great Serena Williams is pregnant now, and she will not play this year. Or the beginning of 2018. Or never. We won’t find out until the 35-year-old decides if she will want to stay at home, or get on the court to wrap up her career.

But that is a different discussion.

Now, the other very good WTA competitors will face off and will determine who will end the season at No. 1. It’s only April and they have a long way to go. But, outside of Serena, very few have played fantastic this year.

Here is the top 7 players who have a chance to gain, or to stay, at No. 1.

Angie Kerber
The current No. 1 has had a very tough year. Clearly, when she is feeling good mentally, she is so stable and aggressive. However, when she is feeling nervous in must-win situations, she backs up. There is no pressure, except in Germany, where the expectations run high. If she finds her balance, then she will win her third major. Perhaps at RG? Perhaps.

Karolina Pliskova
At times, she plays so good, with incredible power. But, at other times, her brain melts down. She reached the semis at IW and Miami, which was just fine, but then she went down against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Caro Wozniacki. Not bad, but not great. The now No. 3 almost won the 2016 US Open, but right at the end, she was not comfortable. She can snare No. 1, but in order to do so, she has to win her first major. Maybe on hardcourts at the US Open.

Domi Cibulkova
The No. 4 has improved a lot over the past three years. She may be small, but she is so strong and rarely gets tired. She has gone deep at all four majors. She did reach the final at the 2014 Aussie, but couldn’t grab it (against Li Na). She hasn’t done much this year, but soon, she will rise. Can she win a Slam? I doubt it.

Simona Halep
At times, she has been so close to winning a Grand Slam, but she has can’t put together a perfect two weeks. This year, the No. 5 has been really struggling, not because she is injured, but because her focus is through glassy eyes. In 2014, she reached the final at Roland Garros. She ran and ran and ran and was trying to exhaust Maria Sharapova, but in the last two games in the third set — over three hours — Sharapova went for it, while Halep just stood there and lost. The Romanian can reach the final at RG, and this time, she will win it for the first time.

Garbiñe Muguruza
The positive is that last year in the 2016 Roland Garros final against Serena, the No. 6 Muguruza was super aggressive and accurate. She won the title, she was so happy and smiled for months. Except she hasn’t won a tournament since then. Yes, she loves clay, but she gets injured a ton. If the Spaniard begins to feel healthy, she can get on a roll. For sure, she wants to win RG once again.

Johanna Konta
The Brit improves week after week and at Miami, she beat Halep, Venus and Wozniacki to win it. She was ultra-aggressive off both sides. In the past two years, the No. 7 has changed her outlook and if she continues upwards, she can win either Wimbledon and/or the US Open. But she has continue to improve her consistentency.

Aga Radwanska
There were many, many years that the Pole was ready to win a Slam, but for whatever reason, towards the end, her forehand and second serve were too weak to carry her to victory. Obviously, her backhand is fantastic, as is her wonderful speed and various shots. But, she has played poorly this season. The No. 8 does not seem happy, which means that unless she turns it around in rapid speed, then she will fall further.

Maria Sharapova in action at the 2015 WTA Finals

The five-time Slam champion Maria Sharapova will return next week after spending 15 months suspended after doping. Yes, as she said, she messed it up, but she loves tennis and even though many players will crucify her, she still will try as hard as she could. The former No. 1 always will.

Another former champ, Vika Azarenka will come back in July after having her first child. She has been No. 1, and she will be once again. She is very intense and she has matured a great deal.
The No. 11 Caro Wozniacki is playing much better this year, but once she reaches the final, she gets very nervous. If she can take a deep breath, then maybe — and I mean maybe — the former No. 1 can finally win a major.