New York: Kim Clijsters did not cry. She looked around at the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday afternoon and waved goodbye to the fans who cheered her to three United States Open titles.
While it was a disappointing end to Clijsters’s illustrious singles career, Laura Robson of Britain achieved her first breakthrough victory at a major tournament, stunning the 23rd-seeded Clijsters, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), in the second round.
“This completely feels like the perfect place to retire,” Clijsters said. “I just wish it wasn’t today.”
The loss snapped Clijsters’s 22-match winning streak at the Open. Her last defeat was in 2003, to Justine Henin in the final. At that time, Robson was 9 years old.
Clijsters held a 5-3 lead in the first set before Robson rallied to force a tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, Robson twice smashed returns of serve deep to the far corner of the baseline to win the set.
Clijsters struggled with her serve, and even when she broke Robson early in the second set, she double-faulted on her next service.
Robson, who is ranked 89th, had never beaten a player ranked as high as Clijsters. Robson showed fortitude late in the match. She gave Clijsters a chance to take command in the second set after she hit into the net. Clijsters pumped her fists as the crowd roared.
But Robson did not waver. She won the next two points and held her serve with an ace.
“I was just trying to play as well as I could because I knew if I didn’t, Kim would completely dominate,” Robson said. “I knew I had to work my butt off.”
Robson’s best point of the match came in the second tiebreaker. With Clijsters hitting a crosscourt volley, Robson responded with a forehand winner that just touched the baseline. Robson won the match on the next point when Clijsters’s volley went long.
“Laura played extremely well,” Clijsters said. “I just wasn’t good enough for the match.”
Chris Evert, an 18 th time Grand Slam singles champion, understands what it is like for a champion to walk off the court for the final time. Evert agreed with Clijsters that the Open was the place to end her career because the hardcourt surface displayed her brilliant footwork so often.
“When I was calling the match I felt conflicted, because you’re sad for Kim but you get excited for Laura because she played great,” said Evert, an analyst at ESPN. “Laura played like a top-10 player. That’s the way tennis works.”
Robson said she did not think about Clijsters’s retirement during the match. But she did realize the magnitude of the moment afterward.
“I’ve always loved watching her play because she’s such a dynamic player,” Robson said. “At the end, you know, it was obviously really sad.”
In a television interview, Robson called Clijsters a role model for being one of the nicest players on tour and, as a four-time major champion, an inspiration to the next generation of players.
Clijsters, who said she was emotional at the time, smiled and nodded at Robson. Then she waved to the crowd one last time.
“Every time I came back here I was inspired,” Clijsters said. “This has been a great adventure for my family, and I look forward to the next part of my life.”