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Clijsters the one they all want to avoid in New York

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ask any of the top seeds at next week’s U.S. Open who they would least like to play in the early rounds and there will only be one name uttered - Kim Clijsters.

Less than a month into her comeback after two years off and the birth of her first child the former world number one’s sparkling return has been the talk of the tour.

The Belgian beat four top-20 players, including French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, in her first two events back - Cincinnati and Toronto - and even she will now be dreaming of grand-slam glory once more.

Such is the form she has already shown that the 26-year-old is sixth favorite with the bookmakers to win the final grand-slam event of the year.

The speed of her return as a grand-slam threat has surprised some, but not Clijsters, it seems.

“I am happy about the level again I showed in Toronto, beating another top-10 player and one of the new rising stars, Victoria Azarenka, before narrowly falling to world number four Jelena Jankovic,” she said on her website.

“I could have won that match and while I was frustrated and disappointed afterwards, it showed me again that my best level is not far off.

“A bit more practice and I should be right there again.”

Six of her seven matches have been against top 20 players and her only defeats came against Jankovic, who she led 5-3 in the final set, and world number one Dinara Safina.

Her groundstrokes are as penetrative as ever and her serve is improving with every match, which spells trouble for the other main title contenders.

Clijsters also has an added incentive to do well for it will be the first time she has been back to Flushing Meadows since she won to date her only grand-slam title in 2005.

“I never got a chance to go back there to defend my title in 2006 because I was injured with my left wrist and then pregnant in 2007,” she said.

“So while this does feel like a new beginning, I am looking forward to how walking through those gates again for the first time in four years.”

Editing by Justin Palmer