Time is the healer for rejuvenated Clijsters

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The aches and pains have gone and Kim Clijsters is once again in the thick of Grand Slam action at the US Open.

The 26-year-old Belgian on Monday played her first match at Flushing Meadows since winning the title in straight sets over Mary Pierce four years ago and she impressed with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Victoriya Kutuzova of the Ukraine.

It is her third tournament since returning from a two years and three months retirement brought on by the physical exertions that top-level tennis imposed on her body.

"Little more nervous than usual. It's a very special court to me, but I really enjoyed it," Clijsters said. "I felt really good out there."

In the intervening years, Clijsters retired, married Belgian-based US basketballer Brian Lynch and together they had a daughter named Jada Ellie.

But at the start of this year, Clijsters said she felt her competitive instinct was coming back and after that it was just a case of getting her physical fitness back to where it was.

To her delight, she discovered that, in the time she had taken off, the injuries that were blighting her career had gone.

"Those injuries I had were never really career-threatening but they were a problem because they were always lingering and they stopped me from moving the way I wanted to, especially the ones to the hip and lower back," she said.

"But now I have some good people around me who know my body and I know my body better as well so you learn how to deal with the little issues coming up and I think now I'm a little bit more mature."

Her win over Kutuzova was her sixth win against two losses since she launched her comeback at Cincinnati at the start of August.

She came to the US Open unranked and needed a wild-card invitation from the US Tennis Association.

And while she was coasting against an opponent whose game quickly disintegrated under the weight of Clijsters's ball-striking, it nevertheless underlined the fact she is the most dangerous unseeded floater in the draw.

Next up is French 14th seed Marion Bartoli, whom she beat in straight sets in her first match back and who is carrying a leg injury.

A win against her could clear the way for her to tackle the Williams sisters in the quarter and semifinals.

She feels she can get better the deeper she goes into the tournament.

"I still feel I can improve but I'm definitely comfortable with where I am right now and it's just a matter of trying to work on those little things and assess every match that I play," she said.

"Just the match rhythm I think is something I have to get used to. The biggest key is playing those tough matches and seeing when it becomes close and how to react in those situations. I would like to have more of those matches."

(AFP via China Daily September 2, 2009)

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