Kim Clijsters says lure of SW19 brought her back to game

THE British weather is normally what keeps people away from Wimbledon rather than encourages them back to the All England Club.

But if it was not for the infamous SW19 rain then Kim Clijsters admits she would not be preparing to play Maria Elena Camerin today in her first Wimbledon match since 2006.

The Belgian was happy in retirement having married basketball player Brian Lynch and given birth to the couple's daughter, Jada, in 2008.

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But an invitation to play in an exhibition with Tim Henman, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi to test the new Centre Court roof last May stirred something within Clijsters.

She decided to give professional tennis another go and 13 months later finds herself among the favourites to lift the Wimbledon trophy for the first time.

She said of the exhibition: "That was what really made me focus and work hard in training to get back into shape rather than just hitting a few balls and playing an exhibition here and there. It was Wimbledon that really made me want to be ready.

"It feels nice to be back. It's different, last year was very special and it brings back a lot of memories."

Clijsters had been a top player in her first spell, reaching the world No1 spot in 2003 and winning the US Open two years later.

But even the 27-year-old could not have guessed what an impact she would have on her return last August. In only her third tournament back, Clijsters beat both Venus and Serena Williams before defeating Caroline Wozniacki to win her second US Open crown.

She has since won two WTA Tour titles and climbed to No9 in the world but her year has been disrupted by a foot injury picked up in April that caused her to miss the French Open.

Clijsters returned to action at Eastbourne this week, reaching the quarter-finals before losing to talented Belarusian Victoria Azarenka.

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And the Belgian, who was Eastbourne champion in 2005, is confident she is now over her injury and reacquainted with grass sufficiently to mount a significant challenge at Wimbledon.

"The foot isn't 100 per cent yet but I haven't had any problems other than a few aches. It's a big relief. That was my biggest concern coming over here because it's when I first started moving full on," said Clijsters.

"It's great when you go back to a place that you've done well in in the past," she added of Eastbourne. "I had three good matches, I didn't play my best against Azarenka but the biggest thing was to get ready for Wimbledon."

Clijsters' return was followed at the start of this year by her compatriot Justine Henin after her own period in retirement.

And the Wimbledon draw has thrown the two Belgians together, meaning they are scheduled to meet in the fourth round.

"First of all we both have to get there," continued Clijsters "It's a week from now so there's still a while to go but hopefully we can both get there."

Meanwhile, Clijsters last night collected the Jean Borotra Trophy, presented to a player whose career has exemplified sportsmanship and fair play.

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