Clijsters coasts to 'amazing' comeback victory

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The former women's world No 1 Kim Clijsters surprised herself with her victorious comeback to the game late on Monday night – but not her fellow players. After a two-year break in which time she married and gave birth to her first child, the Belgian beat world No 13 Marion Bartoli of France, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the second round of the Cincinnati Open.

"I didn't really have any expectations," Clijsters said. "I just wanted to go out there and play – I guess my mindset was a bit different. I think what I did well was even when my level was a little bit up and down, mentally I stayed focused. That's what I am really happy with."

Bartoli was stunned by the standard of play that Clijsters produced. "Two years without playing a match – it's pretty amazing the level she has already right now," she said. "I guess the level of play, yes, it's inside the top 10 already. I can tell you that. The way she was moving and hitting and her physical strength after two years without playing a match, it's just amazing."

Bartoli's feelings were echoed by Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams. "I think she will do top 10 for sure," French Open champion Kuznetsova said. "She seems exactly the same as she was before. I think it's great she comes back and I think tennis needed somebody like this. I am really excited. There are not many girls who really had a birth of a child and came back."

Clijsters, whose only grand slam singles title came at the US Open in 2005, topped the world rankings for the first time in 2003 and enjoyed two other spells at the top.

Since the retirement of her fellow Belgian Justine Henin last year, no player has dominated the women's game and Williams believes Clijsters can be a major force.

"I think it's great. I think she's happy to be back and be here and I hope it goes really well for her," the American said. "I think she will do well, definitely. She's a great athlete and a great competitor."

Clijsters plans to play in Toronto next week and the US Open at the end of the month before evaluating her progress and planning her schedule.

Rafael Nadal was another to take a first successful step on the comeback trail on Monday night. The Spaniard's tender knees passed their first test in a doubles win at the Montreal Masters. Sidelined for more than two months with tendinitis in both knees, Nadal looked fighting fit as he teamed up with coach Francisco Roig to beat Serbian duo Novak Djokovic and Dusan Vemic 7-5, 6-4. "It's great to be back and I had a lot of fun playing with Francisco," Nadal said. "A win is a win and doubles is fun and important so I am happy about the way it went today."

It was a positive first step in what is expected to be a testing comeback for the 23-year-old Spaniard, who opened the defence of his Montreal crown last night.

Playing his first event since being stunned in the fourth round of the French Open in May, much has changed for Nadal as his great rival Roger Federer took his French Open and Wimbledon titles along with the world No 1 ranking.

Federer's life has also undergone some dramatic changes. Since capturing a record 15th grand slam singles title at Wimbledon in July, Federer and wife Mirka have become parents to twin girls, the Swiss arriving in Montreal with his family in tow.

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