Laura Robson, Britain's top ranked female tennis player (and for a long time one of the rising lights of anglophone tennis) had to step aside for a day, as her victory over Kim Clijsters was overshadowed by Clijsters' retirement following the loss.
The Belgian former world No. 1 and three-time U.S. Open champion announced her retirement after the U.S. Open this year. She had been riding a 22-match winning streak at the event coming into her second-round match with Robson, more than 10 years her junior. Many, herself included, would have considered her continued unbeaten run a distinct possibility.
It didn't happen, and not even with the consolation of a set, with Robson winning 7-6 (4) 7-6 (5).
Even with a straight sets loss it was a close defeat for Clijsters and a hard fought win for Robson. Yet it is often on such tensely fought affairs between a veteran and champion, and the unproven talent, that the tides of tennis history have turned.
Clijsters had come into the event without too much match practice and it showed. Despite untidy errors, there was also the vintage tennis that we had grown used to seeing from her. There were the sliding retrievals and the crushing pistol forehands.
Robson proved immovable. A lefty of the modern era, with the touch of a Schynder but the power of a Kvitova, the 18-year-old provided some formidable defense, striking the ball with the cleanliness afforded by top spin and modern racquetry.
It was too much for Clijsters, who broke at crucial moments and left spectators with the impression that she had done all she could have, yet not enough. All who watched the match witnessed the progress of a generation of players, now after today represented only by the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus.
Never is a tennis match so momentous for a tennis player as the last, especially if it is on one of the greatest courts in the world as a multiple grand slam champion. It was the same for Agassi or Sampras, who both also ended their careers here—the latter most gloriously in triumph.
Clijsters knew her spirit and her history and maybe thought something similar at the U.S. Open, where she had won her first major in 2005, and successive victories in 2009 and 2010.
Clijsters was, for some years, a disappointment in the biggest matches, losing her first four grand slam finals.
Clijsters gave up tennis in 2007, only to return two and a half years later, going on to win her aforementioned U.S. Open crowns in 2009-10, as well as the Australian Open in 2011. It is certainly a lineup in contention for a place in the Hall of Fame.
It is never nice to write tennis career obituaries, and this article hopes not to be one. But on a day which witnessed not merely a mighty upset but the twilight of an illustrious career there will surely be some sadness.