It is no secret that Kim Clijsters will retire after the US Open but it was her opponent Vera Zvonareva who was forced to hang up her racket prematurely. The No.12 seed, who suffered with a respiratory infection during her third round encounter, retired trailing 3-6, 3-4.
It was perhaps not the ideal way the sweetheart of the women’s tour would have wished to forge ahead with her final Championships campaign but the victory guaranteed the Belgian a fourth round appearance against the No.8 seed, German Angelique Kerber.
From the moment the first ball had been struck on a breezy No.1 Court it was obvious Zvonareva was having one of those days. The 27-year-old emerged on court flat-footed, sprayed balls far and wide and struggled with her ball toss on serve, which culminated in a string of breaks against her. In stark contrast, Clijsters played a patient, composed and consistent game in which she bided her time before pulling out textbook baseline winners.
By the time the first set had escaped Zvonareva, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up had sighed, swiped the air, thrown her racket, yelped and cast her gaze heavenwards in the hope of divine inspiration.
She had already come through two tricky three-set matches to reach this stage and it soon became apparent that the Russian No.2 would have to repeat the trick if she were to emerge the victor in this particular tussle.
Drama then unfolded at 2-1 when Zvonareva called on the trainer and began weeping into her towel. All was not well and a chesty cough was audible between the sobs. An off-court medical time ensued but when Zvonareva returned and was broken with ease four games later she conceded the match.
Zvonareva said she had been suffering with the infection for four days but added ''it was getting worse and worse every day, today it was pretty bad''.
Although mother-of-one Clijsters is excited to reach the fourth round, she is under no illusion about the test she faces in the form of world No.8 Kerber.
“I've never played against her,” she said. “ It will be a first. Obviously a left‑hander is always tough. She's been playing some really good tennis. She's a fighter and physically strong girl, so it will definitely be a very tough match for me.”
Even so Clijsters will relish the challenge. “I look forward to playing against somebody like that who I never played against before, where you just have to really be on top of your game, try to play aggressive tennis, but at the same time kind of get to know how your opponent plays and get a feel for it, [such as] the type of shots she makes, and the types of decisions she makes out there.”
And who can blame her? Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam in which the three time US Open and 2011 Australian Open champion has not reached the final.
“To be in the tournament, to be a part of that second week at Wimbledon, is always very special,” she added. “I have a couple days off now...there's such a special vibe whenever you get to the second week of a Grand Slam. I think here at Wimbledon, even more so. It just feels very unique.”