MELBOURNE, January 14- It could well be a case of the fairytale continuing for Kim Clijsters at next week's Australian Open.The always popular Belgian produced the tennis story of the year in 2009 when she came out of retirement to win the US Open.
An already emotional crowd had their heartstrings tugged even further when Clijsters’ baby daughter Jada came onto the court after the final to greet her mother.
The 26-year-old has always been one of the most popular players on the WTA Tour, adored by fans and well-liked by her peers.
Many thought she retired too young when she walked away from the sport in May 2007, but after marrying US basketballer Bryan Lynch and starting a family, Clijsters decided last year to give the tour another go.
She played only four tournaments in 2009, but captured her second Grand Slam when she beat Denmark’s Caroline Wozniaki at Flushing Meadow, becoming the first mum since Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon in 1980 to win one of the big four.
The powerful Clijsters is returning to the tour full time this year, and showed she is well and truly capable of matching it with the best when she powered through last week’s Brisbane International.
She ended up beating another comeback queen, Justine Henin, in the final, helping produce one one of the best women’s matches in recent times.
The level of tennis the two Belgians produced was staggering, with men’s champion Andy Roddick later calling it the best women’s match he has ever seen.
When asked after the match whether she and Henin can rekindle the rivalry that saw them both reach world number one, she was unequivical in her response.
"I think with the level that we both played today, I think we are both capable of getting back into the top 10, and I think it won’t take long for Justine to have a crack at that," Clijsters said.
"The level was so high.
"It’s fun to play in a big match when you are both playing good tennis and that’s what it’s all about."
Clijsters also noted that this time around it would be a three-pronged attack from Belgium, with the two old-stagers joined by a fresh-faced newcomer Yanina Wickmayer, 20.
Clijsters may have won two Grand Slams, the US Opens of 2005 and 2009, but she has long been in the shadow of Henin, one year her senior and winner of seven majors.
However, the nature of her victories at both the 2009 US Open and last week’s Brisbane International showed that it is a tougher, more mature Clijsters this time around.
She has given herself every chance to win the Australian Open, coming to the country earlier than usual and bringing her family and a large entourage with to help her acclimatise.
"I’m really happy I’m here because I think it makes the transition to Melbourne easier," she said.
"You get a feel for the humidity and you are not coming from snow to extreme heat."
Clijsters will go into the Australian Open as one of the lesser seeds, but no-one will be surprised if it is her name on the trophy come the end of the tournament.