Clijsters bows out with a whimper
Kim Clijsters suffered the kind of mauling that must make retirement all the more attractive as her final Wimbledon came to a bitterly disappointing end.
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Thirteen years have passed since Steffi Graf halted the 16-year-old Clijsters' first tilt at Wimbledon in the fourth round, and it was another German in Angelique Kerber who ended the Belgian's run at the same stage and in her penultimate grand slam.
Clijsters has the Olympics, also at Wimbledon, and the US Open to look forward to, after which a career which has yielded four singles titles in the slams will be brought to an end.
Three of those came in New York, one at the Australian Open. Clijsters reached two finals at the French Open but never ventured beyond the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
Romantics talked up her chances this fortnight, optimistic she might be able to summon one final great effort, but Kerber crushed those hopes, winning 6-1 6-1 on Court Three.
Clijsters will enter retirement for a second time having previously taken two years out in which she became a mother. Today she offered a wave to the crowd as she departed. It was more in apology than farewell.
"What I was thinking about was probably the match still," she said. "It wasn't so much about it being the last time. Not at all actually. I didn't really think about that.
"I just had the feeling that there was absolutely nothing I could have done today to have won that match. I just felt my opponent was better on every level.
"I think she played close to the perfect match.
"I never had a chance to get into the match or where she dropped her level a little bit. She was on every level just too good: served better, returned better, and just in the rallies was hitting the ball very deep, very fast on to the bounce, anticipating really good as well.
"I look forward to just watching her here in the rest of this tournament and seeing her in the future, how she does against different players."
Left-hander Kerber is having an outstanding year, collecting titles in Paris and Copenhagen and in the week prior to Wimbledon reaching the final at Eastbourne.
Just 12 months ago she lost to Laura Robson in the first round at Wimbledon, but that is a distant memory for a player who went on to reach the US Open semi-finals within three months.
The 24-year-old stands eighth in the world and is rising, and it was a case of an emerging force in women's tennis playing a fading great.
Clijsters could not cope but said she would have no regrets about her Wimbledon fortunes over the years.
"I won't be sorry about anything," she said. "I know that every time that I've played here I've given my best, and that's the only thing that I can try. Some days it's good, some days it's great, and some days it's not good enough."
Casting her mind back to that debut year in 1999, Clijsters recalled the clash with Graf, coincidentally for whom it was also her final Wimbledon. Graf won seven Wimbledon titles.
"Playing Steffi here was for me definitely one of my dreams come true as a young up-and-coming player," Clijsters said.
"To be playing Steffi in her last Wimbledon was very, very special."
She compared her first All England Club visit to a Disneyland trip, spoke of how as a child she "felt the magic coming through the television" as she watched the tournament from home, and said she would take away fond memories of being watched by family, including her late father Leo.
Kerber, who goes on to play fellow German Sabine Lisicki in the quarter-finals, blanked thoughts of it being Clijsters' final Wimbledon from her mind until victory was secured.
"It was nice to play against her because we never played before," Kerber said. "I had the chance now at her last Wimbledon to play against her. It's good that I won this match, for me.
"She's a great player. She's a legend also for me. She won a lot of grand slams.
"I knew that I needed to play until the last point because if I gave her a little chance she would take it.
"I think that's her thing, that she's a fighter."