WHEN KIM CLIJSTERS retired in 2007, tennis broadcaster Mary Carillo described the affable Belgian as "Pocahontas's best friend; she was always level-headed, sensible, friendly and stayed clear of pettiness. She was simply nice to have around." There was an assassin behind that smile, though. Clijsters, who was 23 when she quit, was one of the best and most athletic players on the WTA tour: She held the No. 1 ranking for 12 weeks in 2003 and won the '05 U.S. Open by routing Mary Pierce in the final.
Now Clijsters, like so many other stars who retired young (see Capriati, Jennifer, and Hingis, Martina), is back. She announced last week that she requested wild-card entries to three events this year, including the final Grand Slam event, the U.S. Open. Clijsters was troubled by several nagging injuries in her final years, and she spoke of wanting to be a mother. She married former Villanova basketball player Brian Lynch two months after hanging up her racquet and had a daughter, Jada Ellie, in February 2008. Her injuries have healed. "The hunger is back," Clijsters, 25, said—and yes, it was with a smile.