After losing to Ajla Tomljanovic in the US Open third round after playing for more than three hours, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1, Serena Williams delivered an emotional post-match address.
“I appreciate it, dad; I know you’re watching. Thank you, mum,” Williams exclaimed before breaking down in tears during her on-court post-match interview with Mary Joe Fernandez of ESPN. “Everyone here has supported me for decades, for so many years.
“I assume they are joyful tears. I’m not sure. And without Venus, I wouldn’t be Serena, so thank you, Venus. Serena Williams never would have existed without her. The journey was enjoyable. The ride and travel have been the most amazing I’ve ever experienced.
Williams, 40, first made mention of her upcoming retirement from tennis in a Vogue piece that was published last month at the Canadian Open and cited her wish to have another child. She recognised the difficulty of the decision and stated that she favoured the word “evolution” over “retirement” in the essay.
Williams said she was eager to spend more time with her kid and “discover a different version of Serena” in her post-match news conference. She didn’t fully rule out a possible comeback though.
She grinned when Fernandez questioned whether she may think twice before leaving. “I doubt it, but you never know,” she said.
Williams remarked, “I always did adore Australia,” the nation that would host the following Grand Slam competition in January, when questioned about the same subject a little while later at her postmatch news conference.
Williams has received a hero’s farewell from the fans in Toronto, Cincinnati, and New York since making her news. All three of her matches contributed to breaking US Open attendance records and included players like Tiger Woods and former President Bill Clinton. Even the audience at Ashe on Thursday night was packed for her doubles match with sister Venus.
Williams’ practice session Friday drew thousands, just hoping to catch a glimpse. The fervor around Williams even resulted in ESPN bumping the Michigan State–Western Michigan college football game to ESPN2 in order to move Williams’ match to the primary channel.
Williams’ career was celebrated following her first-round match with an on-court ceremony hosted by Gayle King and featured a video narrated by Oprah Winfrey and a tribute from Billie Jean King.
“Thank you for showing us what it means to come back and for never, ever backing down,” Winfrey said. “Thank you for changing the face of the game, for inspiring the next generation. Thank you for thinking outside the lines and encouraging us to evolve. Thank you for showing us how to love the sport, and for always loving us back.”
Aside from her interview with Fernandez, there was no formal ceremony after the match Friday, but the crowd — which included Spike Lee, Gayle King, Stan Smith, Saquon Barkley, Russell Wilson, Ciara, Bella Hadid, P.K. Subban and Venus — showered her with ovations throughout, including multiple “Se-re-na” chants. Despite their collective passion and obvious admiration, it wasn’t enough to propel Williams to another victory.
Williams took the first four games of the second set after dropping the first set, making a deciding all but certain. However, Tomljanovic came back valiantly with her strong forehand. In the eighth game of the set, which was nine-deuce, she fended off four set points. Williams ultimately demanded a third set following a thrilling tiebreak.
She struggled with her mobility and had nothing left for the final. The Australian won the following six games to win the match after defeating Tomljanovic in the first game. Although Williams fought to the last end, Tomljanovic needed six match points to win.
“I’ve gone through this before. Williams declared,” I don’t truly give up. I’ve never given up in my profession. I persevere during games. There was no way I was giving up tonight.
Williams’ battle, according to Tomljanovic, didn’t surprise her until the very end. During her own on-court interview, Tomljanovic referred to the subject as Serena. She’s the best of all time because that’s just who she is Period.”
Tomljanovic grew up watching Williams play on television and is an open admirer of her.
Tomljanovic, who has never advanced past the quarterfinals at any major, said, “I’m feeling extremely awful, just because I adore Serena just as much as you guys do.” And what she has accomplished for me and for tennis is fantastic. For me, this is a strange time.
Then Tomljanovic said, to laughter: “I just believed that she would defeat me. It’s Serena. She is the best of all time because it is who she is. Period.”
Williams nodded to the fans after thanking her opponent and momentarily covered her teary face with a towel before conducting her interview. With Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” playing as she left the court for the final time in singles play at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Williams’ 27-year career that transcended tennis and established her as a worldwide icon may have come to an end.
Williams has won 23 major championships, which is more than any other woman during the Open Era and is second only to Margaret Court’s (24) record for all-time. She has won 73 career singles titles, 16 major doubles and mixed doubles titles, 4 Olympic gold medals, and spent 319 weeks at the top of the rankings among her impressive list of accomplishments.
She holds a number of records, including the most hard-court major wins (13) won by any player, the most Grand Slam triumphs (367) by a woman, and the most US Open singles titles (6) in the Open Era, which she shares with Chris Evert. In the Open Era, Williams is one of just four tennis players to win a singles championship in each of the four decades. She had the No. 1 ranking and a major title at age 35, making history.
Since she first appeared on the scene, Williams has also left her mark off of the court. She has been a champion for equality and social justice for a while now. As a longstanding member of the WTA’s Player Council, she fought alongside Venus for equal prize money for women.
“It has been a while. Williams stated Friday night after a last victory-related twirl and wave. I’ve been playing tennis my whole life,” she said. Even if it’s a bit too soon, I’m still thrilled since this is exactly what I wanted.