- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Five years after her last appearance at the French Open, and a few weeks after her latest injury layoff, Kim Clijsters made a winning return to Roland Garros.

The second-seeded Belgian, who twice lost in the final in Paris, said she had been looking forward to her first match at the tournament since losing in the 2006 semifinals.

“I remember that I played some matches on that Court Suzanne Lenglen. I remember that I didn’t really like it too much,” said Clijsters, who beat Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus 6-2, 6-3 there Tuesday in the first round. “Now I was like, ‘Oh, great, I get to play there.’”

Since returning to the tour in 2009 following the birth of her daughter, Clijsters has won three of her four Grand Slam titles. And she came to the French Open with the chance to win her third straight major after taking the title at last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open.

Clijsters entered the tournament despite injuring her right ankle while dancing at her cousin’s wedding in April. She took some time off to recover, and finally tested it in a competitive match on Tuesday.

“It feels steady and good. So it’s important now when I get back to the hotel that I ice it a lot and that I take good care of it, and I will have treatment,” Clijsters said. “Then tomorrow just make sure I keep mobilizing it so that I don’t get more inflammation than I have already.”

While she was sidelined, Clijsters said she followed the tennis scene and was happy to see Maria Sharapova win the title in Rome this month.

Sharapova, who beat Mirjana Lucic of Croatia 6-3, 6-0 on Tuesday, is in Clijsters‘ half of the draw at Roland Garros and the two could meet in the quarterfinals.

“It’s OK. If you want to do well, you have to beat them all, so it doesn’t matter,” said Clijsters, adding she can relate to Sharapova both because of their injury layoffs and their significant others.

Clijsters is married to Brian Lynch, an American who used to play basketball in Belgium; Sharapova is engaged to NBA player Sasha Vujacic.

“They’re big,” Clijsters said, “but they’re softies.”


BALL RETURN: Dunlop, replaced by Babolat this year as the official ball manufacturer for the French Open, issued a statement Tuesday to point out that the companies’ products are different.

Some players have complained about the switch. French Tennis Federation spokesman Christophe Proust said this week that the Babolat balls are made “the exact same way” as their Dunlop predecessors.

“The nature of our composition formulae … mean that it is impossible for another manufacturer to replicate the finished product,” Dunlop said.

Dunlop balls were used at other clay-court tournaments leading up to the French Open.


LUCKY LOSER: Ryan Harrison was all set to head back home to the United States, a loser in qualifying and a little lighter in the pocket. Instead, the 19-year-old got to play in the French Open’s main draw and took a set off two-time runner-up Robin Soderling before losing 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5 in the first round Tuesday.

“It’s a chance that you didn’t exactly deserve to have, but you still had a shot at it,” he said.

Instead of trying to get a wild card into the tournament via a U.S. Tennis Association playoff, Harrison chose to go through qualifying in Paris _ and didn’t make it. But when a player withdraws from the tournament after the draw has been held, a loser in qualifying _ known as a “lucky loser” _ moves into the field.

A lottery determines an order in which lucky losers get called up to the main draw, and Harrison was sixth.

“I was in the trainer’s room all the time, asking if anyone was questionable. The people who were questionable actually played,” Harrison said. “I was kind of planning on leaving. I had already talked to my brother about picking me up at the airport tomorrow in Tampa.”

But when Benjamin Becker of Germany withdrew because of a left elbow injury, Harrison got a chance to offset $2,100 in fines he received for racket abuse, unsportsmanlike conduct and an audible obscenity during qualifying.

“That wasn’t a good moment,” he said.


Associated Press Writer Trung Latieule and AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

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