Top 10 tennis comebacks: Where does Kim Clijsters’ first comeback rank? What about Monica Seles?
As Kim Clijsters prepares to make a second comeback to the WTA Tour, we look at other times tennis players’ careers appeared to be over only for them to pull off a remarkable return.
* For the record, we did consider Serena Williams following her comeback after giving birth to her first child as well as Andy Murray’s return after hip surgery. However, who do you replace in the top 10? Are their achievements since returning really better than anybody in the top 10? Let us know if you disagree.
10. Venus Williams
The American is one of the most decorated players on the WTA Tour with seven Grand Slam singles titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles and four Olympic gold medals.
And she surely would have won more Grand Slam singles titles if it wasn’t for her sister Serena.
Venus won her seven Grand Slam singles titles between 2000 and 2008, but at the end of 2010 she suffered a knee injury and was forced to call an early end to her season.
Although she was fit for the start of the 2011 campaign she sustained another injury at the Australian Open and missed the clay-court season as a result.
Venus was forced to withdraw from her second-round match at the US Open due to a viral illness and it was later confirmed she had been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease which causes fatigue and muscle and joint pain.
She missed the rest of the season and the 2012 Australian Open as a result and only returned in February, but she was soon winning titles again, including the women’s doubles alongside Serena at the 2012 London Olympics and the mixed doubles with Ranjeev Ram at the 2016 Rio Games.
However, she proved her longevity in 2017 when she reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals (the latter just weeks after turning 37), losing against Serena and Spain’s Garbine Muguruzu respectively, while she also lost in the WTA Tour Finals against Caroline Wozniacki.
9. Juan Martin del Potro
The Argentine has always been a fan favourite and his breakthrough season came in 2009 when beat Roger Federer in five sets to win the US Open. In the same year he also reached the French Open semi-final and Australian Open quarter-final.
But after the highs of 2009 came the lows of 2010 as he missed the majority of the season and couldn’t defend his US Open crown due to a wrist injury.
He returned in 2011 and after an early Australian Open exit he slumped to No 485 in the world, but by the end of the year his form started to pick up again and in 2012 he reached three Grand Slam quarter-finals and also won bronze at the London Olympics.
By 2013 he had climbed back into the world top five and reached the Wimbledon semi-final, but then his injury woes returned and he was absent for nearly two full years.
However, he made another comeback in 2016 and this time he reached the Rio Olympics gold medal match, but finished runner-up to Andy Murray. After early exits in the first three majors of the year, Del Potro beat Roger Federer in the US Open quarter-final before losing against eventual winner Rafael Nadal in the semi-final.
More success followed in 2018 as he won his first ATP Masters 1000 title, beating Federer in the Indian Wells Masters final and he capped off the year with a runners-up place at the US Open final, going to down against Novak Djokovic in the final.
But injury again struck at the end of 2018 as he picked up another serious knee injury.
8. Martina Navratilova
Tennis great Martina Navratilova won all there was to win in tennis when she decided to retire in November 1994. At the time she boasted 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including nine Wimbledon trophies, 32 Grand Slam doubles titles and seven mixed doubles titles.
However, she returned to doubles a few years later and won the 1995 US Open mixed doubles with Jonathan Stark. That, though, wasn’t her greatest comeback as she made another comeback in 2000, competing mostly in doubles while also taking part in the odd singles tournament.
In 2003 she would team up with Leander Paes to win both the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles, while she also finished runner-up with Svetlana Kuznetsova at the US Open doubles.
Three years later at the ripe old age of 49 years and 11 months, she partnered Bob Bryan to win the 2006 US Open, her 10th mixed doubles Grand Slam title to take her overall major tally to 59.
7. Thomas Muster
Austrian Thomas Muster turned pro in 1985 and by 1988 his career started to blossom as he won four tournaments and finished the year at No 16. He carried that form into the Australian Open in 1989 as he reached the semi-final before losing against eventual champion Ivan Lendl.
However, disaster struck in Florida on April 1, 1989 as just hours after he beat Yannick Noah to reach the Lipton International Players Championships final, he was involved in a car accident and severed ligaments in his left knee. Many feared it would spell the end of his career.
The Austrian, though, barely had surgery and he was back on the court hitting tennis balls thanks to a specially designed wheelchair. It helped him to speed up his recovery and he returned to action in September that year.
In January 1990 he was back in the winners’ circle as he won the ATP Adelaide before becoming one of the most dominant clay court players of that era. His crowning moment came in 1995 when he won the French Open while the following year he became No 1 in the world for the first time.
6. Goran Ivanisevic
The man from Croatia will always be remembered fondly for his Wimbledon heroics after beating Pat Rafter in five sets to win his one and only Grand Slam title.
Ivanisevic was a crowd favourite at the All England Club after he finished runner-up three times in the 90s with the 1992 and 1998 defeats particularly tough as he lost in five sets to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras respectively.
After his 1998 defeat he appeared in only two other finals and slipped down the rankings and by mid-2001 he had dropped to 125 in the world. His low ranking meant he didn’t receive an automatic entry into Wimbledon and was given a wildcard instead.
The rest, as they say, is history.
5. Kim Clijsters
The Belgian was the first to follow in Margaret Court’s footsteps as she won three of her four Grand Slams after giving birth.
Clijsters was one of the best players in the world from 2000 until 2006 and she appeared in three Grand Slam finals, finishing runner-up to compatriot Justine Henin on three times and once to Jennifer Capriati, before finally winning her maiden major at the 2005 US Open.
Back in 2005 she had revealed that she planned to retire at the end of 2007, but an injury forced her to call it quits in May 2007 and the following year she gave birth to her daughter.
She announced her comeback to the sport in 2009 and received a wildcard entry to the 2009 US Open. She would go on to win the tournament at Flushing Meadows, beating Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets and a year later she defended her US Open title successfully.
Clijsters won her final Grand Slam at the 2011 Australian Open before retiring in September 2012.
4. Margaret Court
Serena Williams is not only looking to surpass Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles next year, but she will also follow in footsteps of the Australian legend when it comes to comebacks.
When Court announced her retirement from tennis shortly after winning the 1966 Wimbledon crown, she was already considered a legend as it was her 13th Grand Slam title.
However, she returned to the game in 1968 and won three Grand Slams the following year, but then went one better in 1970 as she won all four in the same calendar year.
That is not where her comeback story ends, though, as she was pregnant when she lost the 1971 Wimbledon final against Evonne Goolagong Cawley. She took time out again, but was back in action in late 1972 and then went on to win another three Grand Slam titles the next year.
She fell pregnant again in 1974, but made another return late in the year and won her 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open in 1975.
The Australian gave birth to her third child in 1976 and then returned to the WTA Tour in 1977 again, but she retired for good later that year after she fell pregnant with her fourth child.
3. Andre Agassi
The flamboyant Andre Agassi was always a crowd puller and after falling short in three Grand Slam finals, he finally got his breakthrough at Wimbledon 1992. The US Open followed in 1994 and the Australian Open a few months later as he ascended to the top of the ATP Tour rankings.
Although he won Olympic singles gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games, he started to lose form and by the end of 1997 he had fallen to outside the top 100. He also failed a drug test, but the ATP later dropped the charges after he wrote a letter, while away from the court his marriage to Brooke Shields was over.
Many believed that was that for the American career wise, but Agassi turned things around on and off the court and returned to the top 10 in 1998.
However, he enjoyed his best year on the ATP Tour in 1999 as he won the French Open to complete a Career Grand Slam while he also claimed the US Open, reached the Wimbledon final and finished the year at No 1.
Away from the court he started dating former women’s No 1 player Steffi Graf and he won another three Australian Open titles to finish his career with eight Grand Slam titles.
2. Jennifer Capriati
Tennis prodigy Jennifer Capriati made her professional debut at 13 years and 11 months in 1990 and she reached the semi-finals of the French Open shortly after turning 14. In 1991 she made it to the last four at Wimbledon and the US Open.
By 1992 she beat Steffi Graf at the Barcelona Olympics to win the gold medal, but she started to lose her way in 1993 and decided to take a break from tennis, citing burnout and mental stress.
The American returned in 1996, but she was a shadow of the player she was when she made her debut and plummeted to outside the top 200.
However, by 1999 she regained form, winning two tournaments that year as she made her way up the rankings again to finish at No 23.
She reached the 2000 Australian Open semi-final, her first Grand Slam semi-final in nine years, and it was a sign of things to come as she made her major breakthrough at Melbourne Park the next year when she saw off the likes of Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis en route to winning the title.
Capriati then showed her Australian Open win was no fluke as she followed it up with the French Open a few months later, while she also reached the semi-finals of the final two Grand Slams of the year and claimed the No 1 ranking.
She successfully defended her title Down Under the following year and she reached three more Grand Slam semi-finals before she was forced to hang up her racquet in 2004 due to injury
1. Monica Seles
Monica Seles’ comeback rates not only as one of the greatest in tennis, but across sport.
Seles was one of the most dominant players on the WTA Tour from 1991 until early 1993 as she won 22 titles, including eight Grand Slams, and reached 33 finals of the 34 tournaments she took part in.
When she won the 1993 Australian Open with a three-set victory over Steffi Graf, many believed she would again sweep all before her that year.
But things took a turn for the worse on April 30 that year as a deranged Graf fan stabbed the American in the back with a knife in a match in Hamburg.
Although she recovered from her wounds a couple of months later, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorders and only returned to action in August 1995.
Her comeback was worth the wait as she made it to the US Open final, but lost against Graf. A few months later she appeared in another Grand Slam final and this time she would go all the way as she beat Anke Huber to claim her fourth Australian Open title.
Seles also appeared in the 1996 US Open and 1998 French Open finals, but finished runner-up on both occasions.
Novak Djokovic remains on target to finish the year in number one spot
Only Rafael Nadal can now overhaul Djokovic but it would involve the Spaniard taking a wild card as a late entry into the Sofia Open next month.
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