New York – Kim Clijsters’ singles career ended where she wanted it to, just not the way she hoped.
The four-time Grand Slam champion lost, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), to 18-year-old Laura Robson of Britain in the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, and will head into retirement after she finishes playing in doubles at Flushing Meadows.
Clijsters, 29, walked away from the sport once before, in May 2007, then returned after a 21/2-year hiatus. But now a mother, the Belgian insisted this season that she means it this time, and decided the U.S. Open — and its hard courts that she conquered on the way to three championships — would be her final tournament.
“It’s the place that has inspired me so much to do well and to do great things. It’s hard to explain sometimes why,” Clijsters said in an on-court interview, her face flushed and her eyes welling with tears.
“This completely feels like the perfect place to retire,” Clijsters told the spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium, many of whom rose to shower her with a standing ovation. “I just wish it wasn’t today.”
The loss Wednesday did have the feel, in some ways, of a changing of the guard.
Ranked 89th, and with only one prior victory over a top-25 player, Robson has been viewed — particularly back home in Britain — as an up-and-coming player whose smooth left-handed strokes would carry her far.
But she had never produced the kind of grit and court-covering athleticism that carried her past the 23rd-seeded Clijsters. And until now, Robson never had won more than one match in a Grand Slam tournament; her claim to fame had been teaming for a silver medal in mixed doubles at the London Olympics with Andy Murray, who reached the U.S. Open’s third round by beating 118th-ranked Ivan Dodig of Croatia, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3, in the last match Wednesday night.
Robson knows how much Clijsters means to the game, not only as a superb player but as someone who by all accounts is universally liked — by fans, tennis officials and even opponents.
“She’s always been someone that I’ve looked up to since I started on the tour. She’s always been incredibly nice to be around,” Robson said. “I think we’re all going to miss her.”
Joining Robson with a surprise victory was American wild-card entry Mallory Burdette, the NCAA runner-up who reached the third round in her Grand Slam debut by eliminating 69th-ranked Lucie Hradecka, 6-2, 6-4.
Until recently, Burdette planned to take premed courses as a senior at Stanford in pursuit of a career in psychiatry.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” the 252nd-ranked Burdette said.
Could get even wilder: She next faces Maria Sharapova, a 6-0, 6-1 winner Wednesday over 78th-ranked Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain.
Earlier at Ashe Stadium, the highest-ranked American man, John Isner, let out a big exhale of relief while waving to the crowd after getting past an argumentative Xavier Malisse, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (9) in the first round.
Isner hit 20 aces and ended things with a service winner on his third match point. That came after Malisse pushed an easy backhand volley into the net, then grabbed the ball and shoved it in his mouth and chomped on it.