Kim Clijsters, right, and fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens lost in straight sets in the first round. Credit Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Spectators waited in lines for up to an hour Thursday trying to cram into the stands at Court 4, one of the smaller sites on the outskirts of the National Tennis Center, for a rare up-close glimpse of Kim Clijsters swatting balls over a net.

But hadn’t Clijsters lost to Laura Robson in the second round of the United States Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium the day before in what she said would be her final professional match? Didn’t she then give a nostalgic goodbye in a lengthy news conference?

Yes, but that ended only her singles career.

After a long hiatus, Clijsters made a return to doubles play at the Open on Thursday, where she and a fellow Belgian, Kirsten Flipkens, lost to Chia-Jung Chuang of Taiwan and Zhang Shuai of China, 6-3, 6-4.

Shortly before the Olympics, Clijsters asked Flipkens, with whom she had played some doubles, to join her, and they began the process of seeking a wild-card entry to the Open.

“I played with her because it was special to end my doubles career with her,” Clijsters said.

But Clijsters’s career still is not completely over. On Friday she will play mixed doubles with Bob Bryan, and that could be her final match, unless they beat Irina Falconi and Steve Johnson. If she and Bryan win, they will face Bryan’s twin, Mike, and Lisa Raymond, the No. 2 seeds.

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Clijsters, 29, has won three United States Open singles titles. When she announced that this would be her final tournament, she decided she would savor every last bit before settling into retirement to spend more time with her husband, Brian Lynch, and their 4-year-old daughter, Jada.

“I always said my last event I want to do it all,” Clijsters said. “I never played with Bob or Mike, and they asked me a couple of times and I always said no because I wanted to focus on my singles. I wanted to do it one more time and enjoy it.”


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Clijsters had not played doubles here since 2003 and had not played doubles anywhere since 2010, when she played three matches over two tournaments, including one with Flipkens.

As one of the top singles players in the world, Clijsters had essentially given up doubles to focus on her singles game, beginning in 2003 when she reached the finals of the French and United States Opens.

In 2003 she entered doubles in 14 tournaments and went 47-5, winning eight titles, mostly with Ai Sugiyama. But when they reached the final of the United States Open that year, Clijsters withdrew from the doubles to focus on singles. She has barely participated since; in 2004 she entered one tournament in doubles and in the years since never entered more than two.

Flipkens said it was an honor to go on court for the final time with Clijsters, even though the results were not satisfactory.

“I’ve known Kim for 20 years, but it’s different to play with one another than it is to hang around off court,” Flipkens said. “We had to improvise a lot, but they were too good today. It would have been nice to win a round or two, but we enjoyed every moment and that was most important.”

Clijsters, a fixture at Arthur Ashe Stadium over the years, said she did not consider Court 4 exceptionally small, comparing it to the main courts at smaller tournaments around the globe. On Friday she and Bryan are scheduled to play on Court 17, the new mini-stadium on the grounds.

Before, Clijsters had to quit doubles to concentrate on singles. Now her concentration is strictly on doubles.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I’ve always missed playing doubles, so this is my chance.”

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