NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three-time champion Kim Clijsters fell at the first hurdle in her second comeback at the U.S. Open when Ekaterina Alexandrova rallied for a 3-6 7-5 6-1 victory to reach the second round on Tuesday.
The Belgian made a blistering start to her first singles match at Flushing Meadows for eight years but was ultimately well beaten by the Russian 21st seed.
Clijsters, who missed last week’s Western & Southern Open with an abdominal injury, left Alexandrova shaking her head in disbelief as she cruised through the opening set in little more than half an hour.
Alexandrova stood firm to level up the contest in a hardfought second stanza, however, and ran away with the third as the 37-year-old mother of three faded on a cool evening.
Clijsters, who won two of her U.S. Open titles after her first comeback in 2009, is still without a win since coming out of retirement for the second time in February but was keen to focus on the positives.
“Out of the three matches I have played officially on tour, I think this by far was my best one,” she said.
“I think you look at a loss in a little bit more of a mature way in a sense than maybe 10 years ago.”
For an hour on Court 17, however, a victory for the Belgian looked very much on the cards as she showed that age had not diminished the all-court skills that won her four Grand Slam titles.
Twenty-one years after her U.S. Open debut and 15 since she first won the title, Clijsters stalked the court with the impatience of a champion and sent back with interest pretty much everything that Alexandrova fired at her.
The 25-year-old Russian had to fight hard to keep Clijsters at bay in the second set as well, but bided her time before pouncing to send the contest into a decider.
Clijsters found the energy for a last hurrah with a break of service to open the third set but it was to be her last game win as Alexandrova rattled off six straight to set up a second-round meeting with American Catherine McNally.
“It’s a process,” Clijsters added. “That’s what I told myself at the start when I took this challenge on, was that it’s going to take a lot of hard work and losses. That’s part of it.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Richard Pullin)