NEW YORK, NY, USA - It looked like things were turning, but in the end it just wasn't to be - and thus, the adventure had to come to an end. The illustrious career of Kim Clijsters wrapped up on her favorite court on Wednesday, as she was beaten in the second round of her final tournament by Laura Robson.
Clijsters, a former World No.1 with four Grand Slam crowns to her name - including three at the US Open, in 2005, 2009 and 2010 - had announced she would go back into retirement after this tournament, and after a routine first round win over American teenager Victoria Duval she was set to face British teenager Robson in her second match - and it was anything but routine.
The No.23-seeded Clijsters looked strong early, racing out to a 5-2 first set lead, but that momentum quickly dissipated - Robson would claw her way back in the set, saving three set points en route, and she clinched the set in a tie-break.
Though there were a few breaks neither player really broke away in the second set; Robson got her first big look as Clijsters fell behind in her 5-6 service game, 15-40, but the Belgian fended both match points off with winners - a swinging forehand volley winner then an ace. She would finish that game off quickly.
Again they stayed even throughout the second set tie-break, but with her 16th forehand winner of the match - a down-the-line that painted the sideline - Robson got the mini-break for 6-5, then hit one last big lefty serve that drew a missed return from Clijsters. Game, set and match Robson, 76(4) 76(5).
"I just want to thank Kim for being such a good role model for me for so many years," Robson told ESPN's Pam Shriver in her on-court interview straight after the match. "It was an absolute pleasure to play against you."
"This feels like the perfect place to retire, I just wish it wasn't today," Clijsters said in her on-court interview. "I gave it my all today and it just wasn't good enough at the end of the match. But I'm still in doubles and mixed doubles.
"Since I came back it's been a great adventure for me, my team and my family, and it has all been worth it, but I'm excited for the next part of my life."
Later at her post-match press conference, Clijsters dug in a bit deeper.
"In the first hour after the match there was still disappointment and a little bit of frustration. I still had that routine of going through the match and trying to figure out how to do it better next time. But after thinking about the retirement in singles, I'm happy. The last year and a half or even two years have been kind of up and down, and I'm happy I stuck through it and lived a lot of these emotions I've had. I'm kind of proud of myself in a way that I was able to do that."
What on-court emotions will she miss the most? "Even moments like today where I'm able to save those match points, those are definitely moments that are fun to have, fighting for it when you're not playing your best, playing with your back against the wall and still finding a way to come back and play well."
And Robson? "I knew before I stepped on court I would have to play well. I've practiced with her at Wimbledon - we had a really good practice, and I told my team she hits the ball so clean. Today she moved really well and anticipated really well. If she gets better physically and even more explosive, she's going to be a great player, and someone I'll be watching and keeping an eye on.
"The words Laura said on court after the match were so nice. I got a little bit emotional there. It was nice to hear those things from another player."
Robson also elaborated on her on-court comments in her presser.
"It's definitely disappointing to see her retire because she's such a great addition to the women's game. She's someone I've looked up to since I started on the tour. She's always incredibly nice to be around. We're all going to miss her.
"I've always loved watching her play because she's such a dynamic player. Her movement is something I wish I could have. A few years ago I was here to watch a friend of mine, Sally Peers, and she played Kim second round. It was a night match on Arthur Ashe. Sally got absolutely killed, but it was really interesting to see Kim live for the first time and see how quickly she moves around the court."
Robson was also asked if she felt like the girl who shot Bambi. "I wouldn't go that far! I would say that was Becker beating Agassi here a few years ago."
And on the forehand winner that set up match point? "I actually practice that sometimes so I was hoping it was going to go in. I couldn't see whether it was on the line or whether it was just in because of the sponsor things on the net, but I was hoping for the best. When she said 6-5, I was like, 'Yes,' fist pump."