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Kiki Bertens column: ‘Idol’ Clijsters’ comeback was a complete surprise

Kiki Bertens, the Dutch world number 10, is the latest WTA Tour star to feature in a BBC Sport column. In her second piece from the Australian Open, the 2016 French Open semi-finalist talks about the impending comeback of her idol Kim Clijsters, why she is never satisfied after a match and how she tries not to talk tennis with her husband at the dinner table.

Kim Clijsters believes she will still be competitive on her return to tennis, which is planned for March

Even though I never really liked watching tennis too much when I was growing up, it is fair to say Kim Clijsters was my idol.

Kim was a great player, a great person and a great champion. Plus she is from Belgium, really close to where I am from, so it is pretty obvious why I liked her.

That meant I was really happy to see her announce a comeback at the age of 36 after more than seven years away from the WTA Tour.

It came as a complete surprise to me. I never saw it coming. But now I’m thinking it would be great if I could play her one day.

I don’t know how I would feel if that was to happen, but of course I would want to beat her! That’s the case with every player.

Her game was very good to watch; she was really aggressive and her movement was good.

I’m still capable – Clijsters on her tennis comeback

We will have to see how successful her comeback is going to be. Maybe it won’t be that easy.

Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are examples of other former Grand Slam winners who have tried to come back after a long time away.

It is not as easy as it was before – I think the level is so high and everyone can play really well.

It will be tough for Kim and I have no idea how she is shaping up now.

But she was a great athlete in her prime and you can’t rule anything out. So let’s see what happens.

‘I need to play more aggressively’

Bertens’ best run at the Australian Open was to the third round in 2018

I started the Australian Open with a 6-1 6-4 win against Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu on Tuesday – but, despite the scoreline, I was not completely happy.

Of course I am happy with the result, but I am never really satisfied with how I play. There is always something that I want to do better.

I think winning by that scoreline and not being completely satisfied is a good sign. And it is a sign of how far I have come over the past few years – and that I still want more.

My confidence has grown so much in the past few years that even when I’m not playing my best, I still feel calm on court and find a way to win.

Against Begu, I was not playing really aggressively, apart from my serve, which I used really well.

The rest of my game was more about moving a lot from side to side, making as many balls as I could and just putting it back in the court.

For the next match, and if I want to go deeper in the tournament, I will have to play more aggressively.

‘Playing a new opponent requires some homework’

On Thursday, I will play Arina Rodionova in the second round – she is an Australian wildcard who I’ve never faced before.

That is going to be a tough one, like all matches are at a Grand Slam. She had a good first-round win, losing the opening set to Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko before turning the match around.

Arina is from Melbourne so I’m sure she will have the crowd behind her, but that does not faze me.

It is really exciting when I play someone I have never played before. My coach Elise Tamaela went to watch her match to find out how she is playing.

Normally I rely on Elise going to a match and listening to what she tells me about an opponent, as well as drawing on my own experiences.

But if I’ve never played a girl before, then I will also watch videos of her play on the internet. That’s my homework.

I will watch it and see what she did well but I think it is more important to concentrate on my own strengths.

‘How my husband and I juggle tennis and marriage’

Kiki Bertens’ husband Remko also works in tennis

As I told you in my first column, I got married in the summer to my husband Remko, who is part of my team.

He is a physio and a fitness trainer, but a coach as well, and my coach Elise is also a fitness trainer and physio. So they can do both – and if I’m not happy with one, then I can switch to the other!

It is great he is part of our team because otherwise we’d have no time to see each other.

Remko has his own tennis academy in Belgium so he travels with us for half of the year.

I think it is good that he travels with us only half of the time, and not full time, because I think that would make it a little bit tougher.

We manage to balance our work and private life very well; we have found a good way to do that.

Most of the time when we are on site at a tournament it is work, and that really starts when he is doing my warm-up before practice.

At the end of the day, when we have finished stretching and the rest of my recovery routine, he becomes my husband again and the work stops.

Then we can do normal stuff as husband and wife, go for a nice dinner, watch a movie or just relax.

When we are having dinner in a restaurant, we try not to talk about tennis – but sometimes it is hard.

Does whoever bring up to tennis first at the dinner table have to pay the bill? Not at the moment. But that’s a good idea, maybe we will start doing that!

Kiki Bertens was speaking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko at Melbourne Park

Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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