Kim Clijsters said the U.S. Open felt like the perfect place to close out her tennis career. The three-time champion just didn’t expect to be pushed into retirement three days into the two-week tournament.
Clijsters, 29, was eliminated from the season’s final Grand Slam tournament in the second round yesterday with a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5) loss to 18-year-old Laura Robson of Britain. The defeat, which matched Clijsters’s earliest exit in nine appearances at the National Tennis Center in New York, ended her 22-match U.S. Open winning streak dating back to 2003.
“It’s been an incredible journey and a lot of dreams for me have come true because of tennis,” Clijsters said at a news conference. “In these two rounds, I 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.”
Robson, at No. 89 the youngest player in the top 100 of the women’s rankings, said she’s looked up to Clijsters as a role model since starting on the WTA Tour. Clijsters, who turned professional in 1997, said losing in the last of her 163 Grand Slam singles matches made her reflect on a career that included meetings with major champions such as Steffi Graf and Monica Seles when she was a teenager.
Clijsters, who will still play in the U.S. Open doubles competition with fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, leaves the sport with 41 singles titles -- including four majors -- and a 523-127 record. She went out on the same court upon which she won U.S. Open titles in 2005, 2009 and 2010. Clijsters missed the tournament four of the previous seven seasons due to injuries and a two-year break to start a family.
“One of my biggest dreams came true in 2005 winning here,” Clijsters said. “Every time I came back I was just so inspired by the energy that was out on this court and I played some of my best tennis and greatest matches here.”
Her last loss in New York had been against Justin Henin, also of Belgium, in the 2003 final.
Women’s top seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus advanced to the third round yesterday with a straight-set win, as did 2006 U.S. Open winner and No. 3 seed Maria Sharapova of Russia, No. 5 Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and seventh-seeded Samantha Stosur of Australia, the defending women’s champion.
“I would have thought Kim retiring should be the main story no matter who won,” Stosur, 28, told reporters yesterday following her 6-3, 6-0 victory against Romanian qualifier Edina Gallovits-Hall.
Robson is in the third round of a major for the first time and will face ninth-seeded Li Na of China.
Men’s No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Britain, who won the Olympic gold medal in London, cruised into the third round last night with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win against Ivan Dodig of Croatia. Fourth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain and No. 7 seed Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina -- the 2009 champion -- also advanced with straight-set victories.
John Isner, who at No. 9 is the top-seeded U.S. player in the men’s draw, won in four sets against Xavier Malisse of Belgium, while No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia rallied from two sets down to defeat French wild-card entry Guillaume Rufin.
Five-time U.S. Open champion and men’s top seed Roger Federer of Switzerland returns to action tonight with a second-round match against Bjorn Phau of Germany. Federer has a 22-0 record in night session matches at the U.S. Open.
Serena and Venus Williams, who have combined for five U.S. Open women’s titles between them, will both seek to advance to the third round today.
Fourth-seeded Serena faces Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, while Venus meets sixth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany in the second featured night match in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Mardy Fish of the U.S., who’s seeded 23rd, is scheduled to play Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in a second-round match, while other men’s seeds in action today include No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, No. 6 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, No. 11 Nicolas Almagro of Spain, No. 12 Marin Cilic of Croatia, No. 16 Gilles Simon of France and No. 27 Sam Querrey of the U.S.
Second-seeded woman Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland faces Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain on the Grandstand court, while No. 10 Sara Errani of Italy, No. 12 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia and No. 14 Maria Kirilenko of Russia also play second-round matches.
Sharapova, 25, dropped only one game in her 54-minute romp last night against Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain to set up a third-round meeting with 21-year-old American amateur Mallory Burdette, who is making her Grand Slam main-draw singles debut.
Murray, 25, became the first player in the men’s draw to reach the third round by beating Dodig in last night’s final featured match in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Murray will next face the winner of today’s meeting between Spaniards Feliciano Lopez, who’s seeded 30th, and Pablo Andujar.