MONTERREY, Mexico - British No.1 Johanna Konta scored her first win of 2020 after winning a much-anticipated clash against the recently returning Kim Clijsters, surviving the Belgian, 6-3, 7-5 at the Abierto GNP Seguros.
"As a young player, I never thought I'd get to play Kim Clijsters in my career," she said during the on-court interview. "I feel truly privileged and honored to share the court with such a champion. It's nice to have her back."
Clijsters was playing just her second match since retiring from tennis at the 2012 US Open - having announced her decision to mount a comeback last fall - and put on another impressive display before the No.2 seed ultimately advanced after one hour and 25 minutes on Estadio GNP Seguros.
"It was very tough. She's an incredible ball-striker. Her ability to do things with the ball is what made her a multiple Grand Slam champion. It's why she was able to come back and play, in her second match back after seven years, at a level like this. That's not exactly an every day thing, that's for sure. I feel so honored to have played her, and really happy with my performance."
Konta was also looking for a first match win of the season after a knee injury ended her resurgent 2019 season - one that saw her reach the French Open semifinals and the last eight at Wimbledon - after a quarterfinal finish in Flushing Meadows; the Brit suffered losses to tricky opposition Down Under to Barbora Strycova and eventual Australian Open quarterfinalist Ons Jabeur before running into an inspired Oceane Dodin at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
With how close Clijsters played Garbiñe Muguruza in the second set of their Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships encounter, the former World No.1 and four-time Grand Slam champion didn't look to be any less of a challenge for Konta, but the Brit nonetheless enjoyed a bright start, earning the first two break points of the match before drawing first blood in the seventh game.
As Clijsters served to stay in the opening set, Konta continued to press, sweeping a forehand into the open court to break again and move within six games of victory.
"I felt some things were better," Clijsters said after the match. "Some things still need a lot of improvement. That's why it's good to play matches. In Dubai, I didn't start well because I was overwhelmed, but today I started and served much better than I did there. Those are a few of the positive things, and the points that have to be better, I'll work very hard to improve them for other matches.
"I've been through different generations and played many players throughout my whole career. I'm still at a stage where I want to focus on what I'm doing and how I'm feeling, and also start reading my opponents. It's a process that I have to trust and keep working hard to improve in every match I play. I'd like to take big steps but I have to focus on small step and improving day by day."
The second set was similarly tense as the two traded service holds through the first 11 games.
Konta made her move as Clijsters served to force a tie-break, moving to two match points after outrallying the Belgian. While Clijsters saved the first, Konta made good on the second, getting her off balance from the return to provoke one last unforced error.
"I think everyone enjoys their tennis here," Konta said. "Regardless of who's playing, the crowd comes out and enjoys the sport and the show we're putting on. That's all we can ask for."
Awaiting Konta in the second round is another of the tour's traveling moms in Tatjana Maria, who edged past Abierto Mexicano Telcel champion Heather Watson in three grueling sets earlier on Tuesday.