Game, set, match, career.
When Kim Clijsters returned Laura Robson's serve long in the second set tiebreaker late yesterday afternoon, the three-time U.S. Open champion's career came to an end. No more screeching split slides. No more flashy forehands. No more beaming showcourt smiles.
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Great Britain's Robson didn't play like the 89th -ranked player in the world facing a Grand Slam champion. Her serve was too big, her return too hot and her forehand too deep for Clijsters to cope with, and she came away with a well-played, well-fought 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) victory that took two hours and six minutes atn Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Early in the season, Clijsters said that the U.S. Open would be her final tournament. It was the tournament at which she had the most success, the tournament she made her first comeback from retirement in 2009 and won for the third time.
As she began her final news conference, she sat down with her characteristic big smile, clapped her hands and said "last time.''
It took an hour or so to get out of the pro player mode. "I think the first hour after the match there was still disappointment and a little bit of frustration,'' she said. "You know, I still kind of had that routine of going through the match and trying to figure out how to do it better the next time.''
Except there won't be a next time.
"After talking and kind of thinking about the retirement, I'm happy,'' she said. "I'm happy that in the last year and half or even two years, it's been kind of up and down, and I'm happy that I stuck through it and was able to kind of live a lot of these emotions. Kind of proud of myself that I was able to do that.''
The 2005 U.S. Open was the first of her four Grand Slam titles. She got used to New York well before that victory, got used to the atmosphere here, embraced it, and felt that she could win here.
"The atmosphere, I was able to take a lot of the energy with me in my tennis,'' she said. "If people asked me which Grand Slam do you think you'll ever win first, for me it was the U.S. Open because I always felt like it just clicked for me whenever I played here.''
For the 18-year-old Robson, it was by far the biggest victory of her career, and one that she was both elated and saddened by.
"I didn't think about the match at all. If I thought about that I would have been a lot more nervous,'' Robson said. "It's definitely disappointing to see her retire because she's such a great addition to the women's game. 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. I think we are all going to miss her.''
It was a sentiment expressed by all the players here, a sign of the deep respect they have for Clijsters and her contribution to the game. Robson paid tribute on court in her television interview, much to the delight of the crowd.
"The words she said on court afterward were very nice,'' Clijsters said. "I got a little bit emotional there. It was very nice to hear those things from another player.''
So, this is it, for sure.
"It's been an incredible journey, and a lot of dreams for me have come true because of tennis,'' said Clijsters, who bowed out with her head held high.