Clijsters rides off into the sunset

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One of the game's most popular players called it a career this past weekend, as Kim Clijsters hung up her racquet for good Sunday at the ripe old age of 23.

Clijsters, who will turn 24 on June 8, decided she'd endured enough injuries during her quality career and wanted to make sure she was healthy for her July wedding, at which time she'll marry former Villanova basketball player Brian Lynch.

"It is time for a new life," Clijsters said. "Time for marriage. Time for children? Time also to relax and to play with my dogs. And especially to spend a lot of time with my family and friends."

Clijsters was known for her deep, powerful and well-placed groundstrokes, as well as her stellar defense, which always demonstrated her speed and athleticism.

The former top-ranked star captured her lone Grand Slam title at the 2005 U.S. Open and was the runner-up at four other majors. The runner-up finishes came at the 2004 Australian Open, the 2001 and 2003 French Opens and the '03 U.S. Open. She also captured the prestigious season-ending Tour Championships back-to-back in 2002 and 2003 and claimed doubles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon in '03.

The steady Belgian reached the semifinals or better in 12 of her Grand Slam events.

The amiable Clijsters is considered the second-best Belgian to ever take to the tennis courts, following her long-time rival Justine Henin, the current world No. 1 star. The reigning two-time French Open titlist Henin already owns five Grand Slam titles and reached all four major finals last year.

The Bree native Clijsters hung up the racquet after winning 34 singles titles and 11 doubles championships on the WTA Tour. She also was a member of Belgium's 2001 Fed Cup championship team, alongside Henin.

Kim Clijsters
The popular Clijsters, shown here in Miami earlier this season, was the 2005 U.S. Open champion and also appeared in four other Grand Slam finals.
"We've almost grown up together and I think we've helped each other to come in another level because we've pushed each other always to play better," Henin said. "She did a lot for the game, for Belgian tennis for sure, and I think I will have great memories of her."

FYI, Clijsters was 10-12 lifetime against Henin, including 0-3 in major finals.

Clijsters reached the top of the women's rankings in both singles and doubles during her career, which, as it turned out, came to an end last week when she was upended by Ukrainian Julia Vakulenko in Warsaw. The sturdy Belgian appeared in only five tournaments this season, going 14-4, including one last title, in Sydney, back in January. Her career singles record comes in at 427-104.

The speedy Clijsters became the first-ever Belgian, male of female, to reach the top of the tennis rankings, and in 2003, she became the first female athlete to surpass $4 million in prize money in one season. Also in '03, she became only the fifth woman to rank No. 1 in both singles and doubles simultaneously. And she's the only player to ever beat both Venus Williams and Serena Williams while they held the world No. 1 ranking.

Clijsters announced last year that 2007 would mark her final campaign on the WTA circuit, but most expected her to play on at least through Wimbledon in July. Last month she announced that she would not play at the U.S. Open, leaving Wimby as her Grand Slam swan song.

"It has been more than fun, but the racquets are being hung up," she said. "To retire before the age of 24, it is very young -- but it was so beautiful. I would have been able to continue for a few months and to take part in the four most lucrative tournaments. Money is important, but not the most important thing in my life."

Clijsters ends her career ranked fourth in the world. She soared as high as No. 1 on the planet, but never finished a year with the top ranking. Clijsters placed second in the year-end rankings in 2003 and 2005 and landed inside the top five on three other occasions, including last year (5th).

"Tennis-wise, winning the U.S. Open and season-ending Championships twice were obvious high points," she said. "The matches that I'll never forget were the 1999 U.S. Open match with Serena, when I was 5-3 up in the third. I had such goose bumps it was incredible. I remember playing Amelie [Mauresmo] in Filderstadt one year, coming from match point down to win, but the tennis we both played that day was amazing."

Clijsters' good friend Mauresmo said, "I think she had been thinking about retiring for a while, so I'm sure she is really convinced that it's the right decision for her. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and all the players are going to miss her a lot, not only because of the player she was, but the joy she brought everywhere. I wish her the very best in her new life. Personally, I always enjoyed our rivalry because it brought the best out in both of us."

The future Hall-of-Famer Clijsters, who turned pro in 1997, battled a series of injuries over the last few years, including a left wrist one that required surgery and threatened her career in 2004.

She's currently ninth on the women's career money list with just over $14.75 million and is tied for 12th, with Venus, in career titles.

Considered to be one of the friendliest players on the circuit, the 2005 WTA Tour Player of the Year received the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award an unprecedented six times over the last seven years.

Clijsters is the daughter of former soccer star Lei Clijsters and national gymnastics champion Els Vandecaetsbeek. She claims to have inherited her footballer's legs from her dad and her gymnast's flexibility from her mom.

Back in 2003, Clijsters announced her engagement to Aussie tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, but their partnership ended in 2004. And in October of last year, Clijsters announced her engagement to the aforementioned Lynch, who is now playing professional basketball in Clijsters' hometown of Bree.

"I hope people won't be too sad now that I've decided to stop playing tennis," Clijsters added. "A new chapter in my life is about to begin and I hope I'll see everyone somewhere down the line. Remember, whatever you do, do it with a smile on your face."

WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott said, "Kim Clijsters will be remembered as one of the most accomplished and loved players in the history of women's professional tennis. No player has been so unanimously popular with fans and fellow players alike. She has been a once-in-a-generation champion. Kim's contribution to popularizing the sport in her native Belgium, as well as globally, is well- known. Athletic and determined on court, Kim has also been a wonderful ambassador for the sport off it and she will be much missed by her legions of fans, fellow players and everyone connected with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour."

Happy trails, Kim!

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