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Saturday, September 1, 2012
Kim Clijsters' career ends

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Kim Clijsters hit her last shot as a pro tennis player into the net. Doubtful anyone will remember that, though.

Smiling right until the end in front of 2,800 buzzing fans on Court 17 at Flushing Meadows, Clijsters officially made her way into retirement Saturday night.

She and mixed doubles partner Bob Bryan fell 6-2, 3-6, 12-10 to Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares in a back-and-forth match filled with clutch shots, loud cheers, four saved match points and -- at the end -- no tears.

"It's surprising that I kept it dry, I haven't been crying," Clijsters said. "I think that's just another sign that it's the right choice."

Clijsters, a four-time Grand Slam champion, announced months ago the U.S. Open would be her last tournament. She lost to British teen Laura Robson in singles Wednesday, snapping a 22-match winning streak at Flushing Meadows, where Clijsters won titles in 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Clijsters and Kirsten Flipkens lost in the first round of women's doubles Thursday.

The mixed doubles loss pulled down the curtain on the 29-year-old Belgian's career. It came with her husband, Brian Lynch, watching from the stands with their 4-year-old daughter, Jada, in his lap playing with a stuffed animal.

When it was over, security guards worked hard to clear a path from the court to the locker room, as Clijsters was swarmed by TV cameras, autograph seekers and other fans -- all trying to grab one more memory from a player whose smile and positive attitude spoke as loudly as her game.

"You can feel the fans," Bryan said. "But the people in the locker room, when they love you and they respect you that much, that's true character. That's what Kim has."

Clijsters said even though she gave it her all for the match, she couldn't feign heartbreak over her latest -- and last -- loss.

"Do you want me to say I'm shattered that we lost?" she said, in jest, to Bryan.

If she couldn't go out a winner, at least she can say she was part of an entertaining show.

She and Bryan saved four match points in the super-tiebreaker used to decide the match and Clijsters hit the key shots on all those points. The best was a looping crosscourt, backhand lob that nobody could touch. It made the score 10-10 and Clijsters pumped both fists and shouted `C'mon!'

"I just didn't want to miss or hit a bad shot on match point and let that be my last professional point ever," she said. "I wanted to go for it. Luckily, it worked a couple times."

The last shot came on a serve Makarova sliced into her body. Clijsters couldn't handle it. The crowd groaned. Then cheered while Clijsters and Bryan hugged.

"Life goes on," Clijsters said in an on-court interview. "I'm getting older. I've had a few injuries. It doesn't mean I don't love the sport. That's one of the reasons I wanted to come out here and play mixed."

Bryan, who has 11 Grand Slam doubles titles with his brother, Mike, said regardless of whether they get No. 12 next weekend, the chance to play with Clijsters is "really is the highlight of the tournament."

Soares agreed. He and Makarova have combined to oust Clijsters, both Bryan brothers and Lisa Raymond, who has 11 Grand Slam doubles titles to her name, on back-to-back nights.

"But to be honest, it came to a moment where winning or losing was just a small part of the whole thing tonight," Soares said. "It was just so nice, so fulfilling to be playing that match. I was happy either way."

Clijsters was, too.

"I had a great night," she said. "And I couldn't have asked for a better way to finish here."