Sunday 17 November 2019

Kim Clijsters ‘happy’ to retire despite defeat at US Open

Kim Clijsters waves to the gallery after her loss to Laura Robson
Kim Clijsters waves to the gallery after her loss to Laura Robson

Eleanor Crooks

KIM Clijsters said goodbye to tennis the way she played it - with a smile on her face.

The 29-year-old announced earlier this year that the US Open would be her final professional tournament, but the end had not been expected to come so soon.

Clijsters looked in control at 5-2 up in the first set of her second-round match against 18-year-old British player Laura Robson, but the teenager got better and better and eventually ran out a 7-6 (7/4) 7-6 (7/5) winner.

It was the biggest victory of Robson's career and, although Clijsters still has doubles to come, hopes of a fairytale ending for the three-time US Open champion are now over.

The Belgian said: "I think the first hour after the match there was still disappointment and a little bit of frustration. I still had that routine of going through the match and trying to figure out how to do it better next time.

"But obviously now, after talking and thinking about the retirement in singles, I'm happy.

"I'm happy that in the last year and a half or even two years it's been kind of up and down, and I'm happy that I stuck through it.

"I'm in a way proud of myself that I was able to do that. So I feel happy. I have doubles tomorrow, so I've got to stay focused."

Clijsters has had a remarkable run at Flushing Meadows, winning the title on her last three appearances in 2005, 2009 and 2010.

In the intervening years the Belgian was either injured or in her first period of retirement, when she had daughter Jada, and her last loss in New York came in the final in 2003, when Robson was just nine years old.

Robson spoke after the match about what a great role model Clijsters has been, and the reaction to her retirement from within the tennis world has been heartfelt.

Clijsters added: "It does something to you when you hear other players talk about me like that. Obviously in these two rounds that I've played here, I've played players that I spoke to and they said that I inspired them.

"That's a great feeling, because I was once in that situation as well. You think about those kind of things now. Now that I'm almost completely finished, you think about when I first stepped on tour and met Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.

"It's been an incredible journey and a lot of dreams for me have come true because of tennis.

"As a little girl, I got tennis racquets under the (Christmas) tree and outfits of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles and I would want to wear them to bed I was so excited.

"So for me to have been able to have been a part of women's tennis, and on top of women's tennis for so many don't think about it when you're in it.

"Now that I think about it, it's been a crazy rollercoaster at times. All of a sudden when you're 15, you get thrown in the spotlight, you go through puberty in the spotlight, you have your first boyfriend in the spotlight, everything.

"It's not just the tennis side of things that you think about now, it's about life. We've had a lot of things happen in these last 15 years that I've been on tour.

"I'm able to look back at them and I'm very happy with the progress that I've made."

Robson, who reached the third round at a grand slam for the first time, next faces ninth seed Li Na, who recovered from 4-0 down in the second set to beat Australia's Casey Dellacqua 6-4 6-4.

There were more straightforward wins for world number one Victoria Azarenka, third seed Maria Sharapova and defending champion Sam Stosur.

Azarenka opened proceedings on Arthur Ashe with a 6-2 6-2 victory over Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens that was not quite as one-sided as the scoreline suggested but nevertheless very comfortable.

Sharapova was detained for only 54 minutes under the lights by Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino, the Russian triumphing 6-0 6-1, while Stosur defeated Romania's Edina Gallovits-Hall 6-3 6-0.

Sharapova next meets 21-year-old American Mallory Burdette, a 6-2 6-4 winner over Czech Lucie Hradecka today.

The 21-year-old studies psychology at Stanford and, as an amateur, cannot pick up the USD65,000 for reaching the third round.

Burdette said: "I have already checked the amateur box so you can't go back once the tournament starts. It's done."

Fifth seed Petra Kvitova came through 6-4 6-3 against France's Alize Cornet, while there were also wins for Lucie Safarova, Nadia Petrova, Varvara Lepchenko, Zheng Jie and Marion Bartoli, but seeds Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Yanina Wickmayer lost.

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