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Clijsters back, barely

Sat., May 21, 2011

Injured foot almost sidelines her again

PARIS – Kim Clijsters smiled sheepishly Friday while recounting the unusual way she managed to hurt her right ankle and a toe recently, nearly forcing her to skip the French Open yet again.

Of all the ways for an athlete to get injured, the champion at the past two Grand Slam tournaments sent herself to the sideline while cutting a rug at her cousin’s wedding.

“I was in bare feet, because I was wearing high heels, and I couldn’t dance in my high heels,” Clijsters explained in a matter-of-fact way, two days before the French Open starts. “So then I landed on another girl’s foot, and I twisted my ankle. Then, while I’m walking off, limping, somebody stepped on the outside of my small toe, as well, and I still have a problem there.”

Then she added: “But I’m here.”

Yes, the 27-year-old Belgian is back at Roland Garros as a competitor for the first time since 2006, an absence that came about because of injuries and what turned out to be a temporary sabbatical from tennis while she got married and gave birth to a daughter.

Still, Clijsters certainly is someone to keep an eye on in a French Open women’s field that is missing the Williams sisters.

It’s also missing a true favorite.

Justine Henin returned to retirement. Nine of the top 12 seeded players – including No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki – haven’t won a Grand Slam title. Maria Sharapova hasn’t appeared in the semifinals at any of the past 12 major tournaments. Defending champion Francesca Schiavone is only 7-4 on clay this season.

At least Schiavone and contenders such as Sharapova, who won last week’s Italian Open, and Wozniacki, who reached Saturday’s final at Brussels, have been adjusting to the slow, slippery surface lately. Clijsters was the French Open runner-up in 2001 and 2003, but she last played on clay in April 2010.

Indeed, since losing to Henin in the 2006 French Open semifinals, Clijsters’ clay-court resume consists of four matches, with two wins and two losses. After her wedding mishap last month, she pulled out of European clay tuneup tournaments; her last match anywhere was March 30.

Hardly ideal preparation.

Not to mention the heavily taped ankle she hopes won’t hamper her too much.

Still, no one seems ready to dismiss Clijsters’ chances over the coming weeks.

“Well, it’s always difficult to not play for a few weeks and come back, (with) a Grand Slam being your first tournament,” said Sharapova, who has won the other three major tournaments once each but never been past the semifinals in Paris. “But, you know, she has a tremendous amount of experience behind her back.”

Or as 2010 French Open runner-up Sam Stosur put it: “People like that don’t play the tournament unless they’re feeling ready.”

Clijsters gave herself Friday off, but she’ll practice today.

She is seeded second and will play 100th-ranked Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus in the first round.

All four of her Grand Slam titles came on hard courts at the U.S. Open or Australian Open.


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