The Comeback Kid goes up a gear

Kim Clijsters, the Comeback Kid, will turn up at Wimbledon tomorrow in far better shape than anyone has a right to expect after serious wrist and knee injuries over the past year that might have ended her career at 21. So much confidence has she gained from winning the Hastings Direct International Championship yesterday that there is every reason to expect a decent run in SW19, where the sturdy Belgian is scheduled to meet the world No 1, Lindsay Davenport, in the fourth round.

Yesterday's uneven victory by 7-5 6-0 in the final against the young Russian qualifier Vera Douchevina was the culmination of a useful fortnight of practice and match play on grass, in her first tournament on that capricious surface since losing to Venus Williams in the 2003 Wimbledon semi-finals. Surgery on her left wrist a fortnight before last year's tournament was followed by further trouble in October and a period of understandable self-doubt. "It was tough, because the doctors started doubting whether I could come back," she admitted yesterday. "When you hear doctors say that, you start worrying. So for two weeks or so it was very tough."

This year's comeback was spectacular, with victories at Indian Wells (beating Davenport in the final) and at Miami, but a knee injury hindered her confidence, as did defeat by Davenport at the French Open after leading 6-1 3-1. Arriving early at Eastbourne to get the feel of the green stuff again proved a good move, and in progressing through the week, Clijsters has felt better with each match.

"The first match on grass again was tough, getting used to the different positioning and movement on the court, but every match I've gradually started doing things better," she said. "Every day something else is starting to improve. Now it's just a matter of working hard and hoping everything fits together. I have to keep working on my wrist and the knee now as well. I feel my game's not 100 per cent, but I'm improving."

Significant improvement was discernible between the two sets yesterday, though it needed to be measured against the fatigue that suddenly set in for her opponent in the fierce heat of the midday sun. Clijsters was not afraid to come to the net - though she was sometimes comfortably passed when doing so - and her serve misfired early on.

There were five breaks in a ragged first set, the 18-year-old Douchevina lacking the guile to capitalise on her hard-earned advantage and twice being broken back immediately after leading 2-1 and 4-3. In the 12th game, Clijsters won a fine rally to gain a first set point and, urged to "finish it off, Kim", did just that.

Douchevina, whose world ranking of 54 will be improved in the next couple of days after she beat Amélie Mauresmo en route to her first final, has a powerful, double-fisted backhand but a weak second serve, which won her only three points out of 20 yesterday. Early in the second set she appeared to be flagging, and for a while could not win a point. She was duly broken in the second, fourth and, conclusively, the sixth games, though the runners-up prize of $49,500 (£27,000) was pleasant compensation.

After a first set lasting three-quarters of an hour, Clijsters had raced through the second in barely a third of that time and the final was over soon after 12.30pm, an early start having been made to ensure television coverage. The consolation for any Devonshire Park patrons feeling short-changed was an immediate promise from the popular Clijsters to return next year, though as someone who is "pretty superstitious" she must have had the fingers of that troublesome left hand crossed before committing to anything so far in the future.

She is more cautious about the prospects this week, which begins with a match against Britain's Katie O'Brien. "At the moment my level's not good enough to win [the tournament]," she said. "I have a lot to improve on and it takes time. Losing to Lindsay in Paris has given me a lot of motivation to come here and improve, because I felt my game was going nowhere."

Now it is going to south-west London and looking good: "I'm hungry and ready to go."

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen