For 25 years, Luxembourg was home to one of the most popular stops on the WTA calendar, earning the loyalty of players who enjoyed the cozy vibe cultivated by the organizers and appreciative fans. An enviable list of champions grew to include Mary Pierce, Jennifer Capriati, Elena Dementieva, Victoria Azarenka, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, while Kim Clijsters captured the WTA 250 title a record five times.
Although the event’s tenure on the WTA calendar came to an end in 2022, tournament director Danielle Maas and her colleagues at International Women’s Tennis Promotion (IWTP) were determined to build on this legacy, but using a different format.
The result was last week’s debut of the Luxembourg Ladies Tennis Masters, an eight-woman exhibition, where Clijsters reunited with fellow former No.1s Martina Hingis and Jelena Jankovic, former No.2 Agnieszka Radwanska and former Top 10 stars Kiki Bertens, Daniela Hantuchova and Julia Goerges and Luxembourg’s own Mandy Minella.
Just like old times, in addition to practicing and playing matches (with perhaps just a little less intensity than in the past) the WTA alumni gave coaching clinics, met with fans and sponsors and toured the picturesque city’s sights.
They also enjoyed the chance catch up as friends, not just rivals.
“We used to talk in the locker room, of course, but there was a different kind of energy,” Clijsters said. “Now we can talk about our kids, about what we’re doing in life. It’s such a nice experience to share these stories, and to see that tennis family sticks around. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
First-round action at the Grand Duchy’s new Coque arena saw wins for Clijsters (over Minella), Hingis (over Bertens), Radwanska (over Goerges) and Hantuchova, who advanced when Jankovic retired due to injury. After Hingis defeated Hantuchova in the semis and Clijsters edged Radwanska, the Belgian marched to victory over Hingis in Sunday’s final, 75 62.
Speaking on gala night, Clijsters further reflected on the importance of maintaining relationships in sport and in life.
“I hear players talk about the ‘family atmosphere’ in Luxembourg and it’s not just something that we say,” she said. “We really mean it. From the moment I first set foot in the tennis hall in Luxembourg in 1999, I felt comfortable and a connection with the crowds. That support never left me.”
Turning to the organizers, sponsors and Luxembourg officials in attendance, she added: “I think I can speak on behalf of all the female tennis players, that we’re super excited that you decided to start an event like this. It just shows the commitment that you have to women’s tennis, not just in the past, but going forward. It’s really wonderful, so thank you.”
The focal point of the night was presentation of the Jana Novotna Award to Clijsters. Established in 2017, the award recognizes players who demonstrate special affinity for and commitment to women’s tennis in Luxembourg, just like the much-loved Czech champion did during her career. Previous recipients include Monica Niculescu, Mandy Minella, Andrea Petkovic, Ana Ivanovic and Julia Goerges.
“I was never able to play against Jana, but I was able to practice against her once at a legends event at Roland Garros," Clijsters said. "I was very honored and humbled that she asked me to train, but we probably sat on the bench and chatted more than we played tennis.
“She was a such great champion and it was an amazing moment for me to talk to someone with her experience. Unfortunately, she’s not with us anymore, but I’m so honored that I’m able to receive this award in her name.”