Clijsters retires after "the fire dies out"

May 6, 2007 - 6:08 PM BRUSSELS, Belgium (Ticker) -- Kim Clijsters, once the top-ranked tennis player in the world, abruptly announced her retirement Sunday.

The 23-year-old Clijsters, currently ranked fourth in the world, said on her personal web site that "the fire has died out."

"It has been more than beautiful. The rackets will be hung up," Clijsters said in her web diary on www.kimclijsters.be.

"I have a lot of respect for what she did in her career as a player, as a person," long-time rival and fellow Belgian Justine Henin said. "We've almost grown up together and I think we've helped each other to come in another level because we pushed each other always to play better."

The 2005 U.S. Open champion, Clijsters crashed out in the second round of the J&S Cup in Warsaw earlier this week following a straight-sets defeat to Ukrainian qualifier Julia Vakulenko.

She initially intended to quit at the end of this season but has been plagued by injuries in recent years and revealed they had finally taken their toll. She is planning to marry American basketball player Brian Lynch on July 14.

"The difficulty in getting out of bed each morning to warm up the muscles for an hour, and preparations for the marriage to Brian takes up a lot of time," she said. "All that made it very difficult to continue.

"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 (three Grand Slams and the season-ending Masters)."

Clijsters ultimately decided that her health and well-being were much more important than money. She has earned $15 million in prize money over 10 years on the WTA Tour.

"The money is certainly important, but not the most important thing in my life," she said. "Health and the private life are the most important."

Clijsters won 34 singles titles, finally breaking through in a Grand Slam at the U.S. Open two years ago.

She also reached the final at Flushing Meadow in 2003 - where she was beaten by Belgian compatriot Justine Henin - as well as making two French Open finals and an appearance in the Australian Open final in 2004.

Clijsters held the top ranking in women's tennis on three occasions spanning 19 weeks. She initially became No. 1 in August 2003 and was atop the rankings as recently as March 2006.

"The most beautiful memories of my career? Many victories in tournaments, Grand Slams in singles and doubles as well as being world No. 1 in singles and doubles," she said. "It is time for a new life.

"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."

Wrist problems have hampered Clijsters in the last few years, although she bounced back to take the title in Sydney at the start of 2007 before reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open.

She had a high-profile four-year relationship with fellow tennis star Lleyton Hewitt that ended in 2004.

"I will have great memories of her that I will keep," Henin said. "It's pretty emotional because we spent a lot of time together when we were younger and we grew up together on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour."






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