Clijsters to take on Bertens in Dubai comeback

Kim Clijsters of Belgium and her family pose for a photograph after she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport

DUBAI (Reuters) - Former world number one Kim Clijsters will return to professional tennis for the first time in seven years at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday - but she has been handed a tough first round match-up.

The 36-year-old, who won four Grand Slam titles but last played in 2012 at the U.S. Open, has been drawn against sixth seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands after being given a wildcard entry.

"I am really excited to be getting back to the match court. I can't wait to return to the game I love and play in front of the fans again - the support and encouragement that I've received since the announcement has been overwhelming," she told the Women's Tennis Association website.

Clijsters said last year she would be returning to the court, but a wrist injury ended hopes of beginning her comeback at last month's Australian Open.

This will be her second comeback: She first retired from tennis in 2007, taking a break to have the first of her three children, but came back within 24 months to claim three of her four Grand Slam titles and return to the top of the rankings in 2011.

Her latest comeback, she said, was fuelled by a desire to just play again.

"Whenever I'm at a Grand Slam playing the legends, if somebody asked me 'Hey, do you want to hit some balls?', I'm the first one to be like 'I'll hit. I'll be the hitting partner for your practice today'," she said.

"The love for the sport is obviously still there. I don't feel like I need to prove anything, but I want to challenge myself and I want to be strong again."

Six of the top 10-ranked women are competing at the competition in Dubai.


(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)