Tennis's good girl Kim Clijsters says she's retiring after this year's U.S. Open. This will be the second time that Clijsters will retire, and even though retiring and unretiring is sort of a fad in the women's game, this will probably be it for her.
Clijsters came back in 2009 from a two-year hiatus (as a new mother!) and rewrote her legacy. In her first stint, she was the sweet, amiable talent who just couldn't seal the deal (despite her immense talent and her ability to do some mind-ripping splits, she only won one Grand Slam tournament—the 2005 U.S. Open). After her return—she came back only 18 months after her baby was born—she won twice at Flushing Meadows and became a sort of Payne Stewart of women's tennis. She always brought her best game to the U.S. Open. It makes sense that she'll hang it up in Queens.
But being the nice girl on tour can go only so far. Even though Clijsters's 2009 Open run was one of the most incredible feats in the history of the women's game—it was only her third tournament in 27 months—her victory was overshadowed by Serena Williams. In their semifinals match, it was Serena who shouted down a lineswoman—"If I could, I'd take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat"—in a pretty epic meltdown. Everyone remembers that scene. Clijsters's win? Probably not.
Clijsters was the one of the best things about a painfully dull era of women's tennis. She knew something was missing from the sport, too.
"I remember Justine [Henin], she was one who could mix her game up even if she was not playing well," Clijsters said in 2009, shortly after returning. "Someone like [Amelie] Mauresmo, even Venus and Serena, were hard hitters, they can still work their way through matches even when they're not playing their best tennis. I'm not saying everybody's like that, but I haven't seen a lot of girls change their game up a little bit."
The result? An era defined by grunters and No. 1 players who don't deserve to be No. 1. An era in which the women's game lost a lot the variety that it had in such ample supply a decade ago. Clijsters was a rebuke to the general drift of her sport into dull slugging. She was both fast and strong where women's tennis players are usually one or the other. She had an insane forehand to go with a scrambling pair of legs, and now she's scrambling straight out of the game that needs many more like her. See ya, Kim. Here's one last split, for old time's sake: