By Ian Horne, editor of Live-Tennis.com and US Open Tennis Live Stream
A 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) defeat against Laura Robson marked the end of Kim Clijsters’ singles career on Wednesday night, much to the surprise of the US Open fans in attendance in the Arthur Ashe Stadium. There had been high hopes for the Belgian. One final swansong could have provided the icing on the cake for her outstanding professional career.
The fact that it wasn’t to be did nothing to take the gloss off of the Belgian’s achievements. There’s no shame in losing two tie-breakers against one of the rising stars of the WTA tour. Maybe a few years down the line we’ll be viewing Robson’s victory as the ushering in of a new era, a changing of the guard akin to Roger Federer’s five-set dismissal of Pete Sampras in the round of sixteen at Wimbledon 2001.
All this aside, when the US Open hype dies down and the dust settles on the final slam of the year, there will be so many positives to look back on from Clijsters’ career – or two careers, depending on your take. In Clijsters we had a WTA player who not only won fans and plaudits with her tennis, but also through her gracious and pleasant demeanour.
The Belgian appears to have been well-liked in the locker room. The announcement of her imminent withdrawal had provoked praise from countless players in the WTA and ATP, but also a sense of sadness that can only be seen as a natural response to the retirement of a player who for years has been one of the most popular stars of the game.
Clijsters possessed one of the best backhands in the WTA, and a ripping forehand that could devastate on a good day. As results demonstrate, there were many good days for the Belgian. Clijsters was also extremely sharp around the court. Even though injuries plagued her career, she was one of the best defensive players on the tour, with the ability to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
Net play was another of Clijsters’ strengths, a talent that she honed by playing doubles between 2000-2003. Paired with Ai Sugiyama, Clijsters achieved a runner-up finish at Wimbledon in 2001, before the pairing won French Open and Wimbledon titles in 2003.
Clijsters’ talent was never in doubt, but she had to wait a long time before she could establish herself as one of the greats of the Open Era. Between 2001-2004 she finished as a runner-up in four slams, losing some memorable battles against Justine Henin. Her performances in these finals were disappointing, but she wasn’t to be denied.
In 2005, Clijsters got her hands on the the US Open title, starting a run of victories in New York that would only end in 2012. Whilst she didn’t compete in the 2006 and 2007 events, she won the title again on her 2008 return and successfully defended the title the following year. She missed 2011’s tournament too, making Robson the first player to beat her at Flushing Meadows since 2003.
When Clijsters backed up her 2010 US Open title by winning the 2011 Australian Open, she became the first mother in the Open Era to climb to the top of the rankings. Dubbed ‘Aussie Kim’ by the fans in Melbourne, Clijsters perhaps couldn’t have picked a better event in which to win her final slam.
Clijsters will be missed by tennis fans worldwide as she swaps the tour for family life. Still, few could begrudge her for making the decision, as she’s added so much to women’s tennis since making her debut in 1997. Kim, you will be missed.