| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Disappointed but content, Kim Clijsters signed off her singles career with a second-round defeat at the U.S. Open on Wednesday, beaten but unbowed and with the praise of her peers ringing in her ears.
Losing 7-6 7-6 to British teenager Laura Robson was not the way she would have wanted to go out but at 29, after two careers and four grand slam titles, the Belgian said she was leaving with no regrets.
"I think in the first hour after the match there was still disappointment and a little bit of frustration," the three-time champion said. "But after talking and thinking about the retirement, I'm happy.
"In the last year and a half or even two years, it's been kind of up and down and I'm happy that I stuck through it and was able to live a lot of these emotions that I've had. I'm kind of proud of myself that I was able to do that."
In her moment of glory, Robson led the praise for a player who is undoubtedly the most popular in the locker room, calling her a role model to young players, while Maria Sharapova and Sam Stosur were quick to add their feelings.
"I can't say enough nice things about her," Sharapova said. "She was a tremendous athlete, a really good competitor.
"(But) the nicest thing you saw about her was her commitment to the sport but also wanting to have a great family life, retiring from the sport to have that and then coming back and achieving things in winning the U.S. Opens that she did and the Australian Open."
Defending champion Stosur said "the whole tour" was going to miss having Clijsters around.
"She's been a great player and a great person. She's definitely one of those people that you can look up to and really admire with what she's been able to achieve."
The Belgian admitted that hearing her fellow players talk so warmly about her was something extra special.
"It does something to you when you hear other players talk about me like that," she said.
"Obviously in these two rounds that I've played here, I've played players that I spoke to and they said that I inspired them. That's a great feeling because I was once in that situation as well."
Clijsters singled out being world number one, winning four grand slam titles and her WTA Championships as her best achievements, as well as becoming the first mother to win a grand slam title since 1980.
"I feel proud that I was able to win a slam as a mother, just because I know how much work it took after I had Jada to get back physically, tennis‑wise, and mentally to get back into the sport."
In her "first" career before entering a two-year retirement in 2007, Clijsters was seen as something of a nearly-girl, losing her first four grand slam finals.
But her win in New York in 2005 changed everything and when she returned in 2009 having had her daughter, she was even better, winning two more U.S. Opens and an Australian Open crown.
"It's been an incredible journey and a lot of dreams for me have come true because of tennis," she said.
"It's not just the tennis side of things that you think about now, it's about life. We've had a lot of things happen in these last 15 years that I've been on tour.
"I'm able to look back at them, and I'm very happy with the progress that I've made."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)