By Simon Cambers
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The star-studded career of Kim Clijsters ended in the place where it all began on Wednesday, just not quite in the way she would have wanted.
The popular Belgian, who won as many friends for her bubbly, generous character as for her 'eyeballs-out' tennis and fighting spirit, saw her hopes of a fairytale goodbye dashed by British teenager Laura Robson in the second round of the U.S. Open.
The three-times champion was stunned 7-6 7-6 by an inspired Robson, a final backhand return drifting over the baseline and with it floated away the Belgian's dreams of a fourth title.
"It completely feels like the perfect place to retire," Clijsters told the crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium. "I just wish it wasn't today."
Clijsters led 5-3 in the first set and had three set points at 6-5 but the 18-year-old Briton fought back to win the first tiebreak 7-4 and then, after missing two match points at 6-5, won the second tiebreak 7-5.
After she had lost her first four grand slam finals, it seemed like Clijsters might go down as a perennial runner-up before she finally won the U.S. Open in 2005.
Following a two-year retirement from 2007 to 2009, during which she had her first child, she returned to win a second U.S. Open title in just her third event back.
A third U.S. Open trophy followed in 2010 and Clijsters added the Australian Open title in 2011 to give her four grand slam singles crowns in all.
But it was New York where she enjoyed her finest moments and having made the decision to quit, for good, she chose Flushing Meadows as the place to say goodbye.
"After I won in 2005, every time I came back here I was so inspired by the energy I felt on this court," she said. "I've played some of my best tennis here.
"Since I retired the first time, it's been a great adventure for me and my family. It's all been worth it but I do look forward to the next part.
"For two years I maybe picked up a racquet once. I had my daughter and then my Dad died at the start of 2009 so it was an emotional roller-coaster. When I won here, it was so hard to take it all in."
Robson, who could hardly believe what she had achieved, said Clijsters was a player she had long looked up to.
"I want to say thank you to Kim," the teenager said, after reaching the third round of a grand slam for the first time.
"She's been such a great role model for me for many years. I've grown up watching you and it's been a pleasure to play against you."
Clijsters said she had done everything she could to postpone her retirement for at least one more round.
"Laura played extremely well," she said. "I fought and I gave it my all, it just wasn't good enough at the end of the match.
"But I'm still in the doubles and the mixed," the Belgian laughed.
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg and Mark Lamport-Stokes)