At the Net: Clijsters quits for good this time

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

Well, Kim Clijsters has retired from tennis again, and this time it looks like it's for good.

Earlier this year, Clijsters said the London Olympic Games at the All England Club would mark the final tournament of her great career, but the oft- injured ultra-popular Belgian star amended that statement by saying the U.S. Open would be her last stop on the WTA. And it is/was.

Clijsters, long considered to be the nicest player on either tour, didn't get the Hollywood ending she was looking for ... which would have been a fourth U.S. Open title and a dazzling 28-match winning streak at the National Tennis Center.

Instead, Clijsters had to settle for a very disappointing straight-set second- round loss against rising 18-year-old Aussie-born, British left-hander Laura Robson, in a pair of tiebreaks, in front of a sparse crowd on a late Wednesday afternoon inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"It's the place that has inspired me so much to do well and to do great things. It's hard to explain sometimes why," a teary-eyed Clijsters said in an on-court interview after the setback.

"This completely feels like the perfect place to retire," she added while receiving a standing ovation. "I just wish it wasn't today."

"Since I retired the first time, it's been a great adventure for my team and my family," Clijsters said. "It's all been worth it. But I do look forward to the next part of my life coming up."

Clijsters career wasn't completely over at the time of this column, as the 29- year-old wife and mother was still in the doubles mix in Flushing.

Kimmy "retired" for the first time at the age of 23 as the fifth-ranked player in the world in the spring of 2007 in order to start a family with her basketball-playing now-husband Brian Lynch (who played his collegiate ball at Villanova). The couple had their first child, a daughter named Jada, in the winter of 2008.

By the summer of 2009, Clijsters was ready for a return to the tour. And in just a little over a month, the Belgian star returned to the Grand Slam winners' circle with her second U.S. Open title in five years. And who can forget that semifinal night match against fellow future Hall-of-Famer Serena Williams three years ago, when the American great wound up being disqualified for cursing out a line judge in an affair that didn't even start until after 9 p.m. local time due to a day-long rain at the Tennis Center.

Prior to becoming a mother, Clijsters managed to capture only one major title, which occurred at the 2005 U.S. Open. She would wind up tallying three of her four career Grand Slam titles after giving birth.

Pretty impressive.

Note: When Clijsters captured the 2009 U.S. Open, she became the first unseeded player and wild card to win the tournament, and the first mother to secure a major since Aussie great Evonne Goolagong in 1980.

Clijsters would repeat at the 2010 U.S. Open for major title No. 3, but was unable to go for a three-peat last year because of injuries.

So Clijsters headed into U.S. Open 2012 riding a 21-match winning streak in New York, where she hadn't lost since succumbing to fellow Belgian great Justine Henin in the 2003 U.S. Open finale. Clijsters missed five of the last nine U.S. Opens because of retirement and/or injuries, which means she had won it all at the year's final major in her last three trips heading into this latest Big Apple fortnight.

Unfortunately, the aging 23rd seed ran into a future star in Robson, who, by the way, has Top 10 written all over her.

"I want to thank Kim," Robson told the crowd on Wednesday, "for being such a great role model to me for so many years."

An emotional Clijsters perhaps exited Ashe Stadium for the final time as a tour player, unless she and fellow Belgian partner Kirsten Flipkens can see their way through to the women's doubles final. And I wouldn't count on that.

The child prodigy Clijsters turned pro 15 years ago and promptly graced the tour with her infectious smile, class and professionalism, as well as her quality game, which was highlighted by punishing ground strokes, mental toughness and great athleticism, which was often punctuated by a slide that ended in that trademark split that would land yours truly, and many others I'm guessing, in something that would resemble traction.

Clijsters, who was once engaged to former top-ranked men's star Lleyton Hewitt, reached No. 1 for the first time in August 2003 and held the top spot as recently as last season.

FYI: Clijsters late father, Lei, was an international footballer (soccer player) and her mother, Els Vandecaetsbeek, is a former national gymnastics champ.

The effervescent Belgian finished with 41 career singles titles, including the four majors, and 11 doubles championships, including the 2003 French Open and Wimbledon titles, and was a four-time Grand Slam runner-up. She captured the prestigious season-ending WTA Championships in 2002, 2003 and 2010 and teamed with her long-time rival Henin to help Belgium capture its lone Fed Cup title in 2001. Her last title on the tour was a major -- last year's Aussie Open.

Clijsters finished inside the Top 10 six times and is third on the WTA's all- time money list, with more than $24 million earned, placing her behind only Serena Williams (over $38 million and counting) and Venus Williams (over $28 million and counting) on that all-important list.

I'll remember Clijsters as one of the best fighters in the history of the game, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that sentiment. You could never count her out of a match while she was still snarling back at the baseline.

Clijsters' sunshiney off-the-court disposition will certainly be missed, but I can guarantee that she'll be just as big a success off the court as she was on it.