CINCINNATI, August 11 – Former world number one Kim Clijsters made a triumphant return to tennis on Monday, defeating France's Marion Bartoli in straight sets in her first match in more than two years.
Clijsters, who retired in May of 2007 and gave birth to a daughter in February of 2008, defeated 12th-seeded Bartoli 6-4, 6-3.
"I’m really excited playing my first match," said Clijsters, 26, who received a wild card into the draw of the tournament which has been bumped up to WTA premier status.
"I’ve been training since the start of February, and I’ve always been focused on Cincinnati. Winning my first match feels good."
The ebullient Belgian advanced to a second-round clash against Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder, a 6-4, 6-0 winner over Argentina’s Gisela Dulko.
American Serena Williams, seeded second here behind world number one Dinara Safina, said she was impressed with Clijsters even before the Belgian hit a ball in anger.
"I look like I had a kid more than she does," Williams said in a meet the press session Monday. "She looks amazing."
Certainly Clijsters showed no sign of rust as she raced to a 4-0 lead, displaying a solid serve as well as the canny ground game that was her trademark.
Clijsters, who held the world number one ranking for 19 weeks in 2003 and won the US Open in 2005, weathered the storm as Bartoli steadied to win four straight games, the Belgian putting away an opening set in which she notched 14 winners to Bartoli’s two.
"I thought I started off really well," Clijsters said. "Maybe I surprised myself a little bit with that start. I felt like my movement was good, but it could be better."
In the second set, Clijsters fended off a break point in the fifth game to hold for a 4-1 lead, and she fought back from 0-40 down to serve out the match.
Bartoli, who defeated Venus Williams to lift the title in Stanford on Sunday, admitted it was a tough first-round match-up.
"It was very difficult to expect anything," she said. "I haven’t seen her in two years. That’s the reason I didn’t start well. I was trying to figure out what she was doing instead of playing my game.
"By the time I figured out her tactics, I was down 0-4. It’s just a really bad draw, I guess."
The return of Clijsters, who owns 34 career singles titles, was the highlight of the opening day of the two million-dollar tournament. But she wasn’t the only former world number one in action.
Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic rallied after dropping the first set and shrugged off a rain delay of nearly two hours to beat American Melanie Oudin 2-6, 6-1, 6-1. Ninth-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 7-6 (7/2).
German Anna-Lena Groenefeld downed France’s Virginie Razzano 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, while Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0, 6-3.
Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko cruised past Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 6-2 to set-up a second-rounder with Serena Williams.
The top eight seeds, including Safina, Serena and No. 3 Venus Williams and Olympic gold medallist Elena Dementieva all received first-round byes.