Kim Clijsters on Australian Open air quality, her comeback & doing the splits

She has been retired for more than seven years, has a hectic life as a mum of three and is not as “fit and fast” as she used to be, but Kim Clijsters believes she will still be competitive on her return to tennis.

The former world number one, 36, is making her comeback in March after a knee injury put the brakes on plans to return at next week’s Australian Open.

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Sport, she explains what motivated her to take to the court once again, which players she is looking forward to facing and what she makes of the air quality issues the players are facing at the Australian Open.

She says a lot has changed while she has been away – but can she still do the splits?

‘I would be vocal’ on air quality issue

The media day at her academy in her hometown of Bree in Belgium was supposed to be all about the four-time Grand Slam champion’s much-anticipated return to tennis, but Clijsters inevitably found herself being asked about the air quality issues in Melbourne, where qualifying has been delayed because of poor air quality due to bushfires and players have had breathing problems.

Clijsters says if she was at the Australian Open she would be “vocal” in getting organisers to explain how they are going to deal with the issue when the main draw starts on Monday.

“If it’s not possible to play in then what’s the point?” she said.

“If you can’t play and bring good tennis and be fit enough to play two hours, or even the guys 4-5 hours in this environment. You can’t avoid or ignore it.

“They have delayed matches but it’s not going to solve the air quality. On the centre and show courts there is not an issue – they can close the roof and they can have the ventilation on but on the outside courts… you can’t play a whole event just on a few show courts that have a roof.

“If I would have been there I think I would have been very vocal and at least talk to the board and the tournament directors to try to think about solutions.”

She said some of the players from her academy are involved in the qualifying event and have been talking about how hard it has been.

They feel the struggles at night, the coughing,” Clijsters said. “It’s a tough situation to be in. It’s something that’s out of anyone’s control. It’s important that players stay healthy.”

She praised player efforts to raise money for the relief fund to help the crisis, in which at least 28 people have died and an estimated 10 million hectares (100,000 sq km) of land has burned since 1 July.

“Tennis is a sport that has always come together very well to try and make money for [disasters],” said Clijsters, speaking hours after tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were among a number of players to feature in a charity match for the bushfire appeal.

“Everybody cares about it, they all love the Australian Open, we just have to make sure that the people stay safe and healthy.”