A defiant Serena Williams bid an emotional good-bye to the US Open with a third-round loss to Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday, in what may have been the last singles match of her glittering career.
Defeat has always been hard to swallow for the fiercely competitive Williams and no doubt the 7-5 6-7 (4) 6-1 loss to the 46th ranked Australian stung her to her core.
But after a joyous run into the third round there was no shame in a loss to the gritty Tomljanovic, allowing the 23-times Grand Slam winner to exit with dignity intact and head held high.
Her three matches, highlighted by a second-round win over world number two Anett Kontaveit, were a gift to her fans, the relentless never surrender attitude that made her tennis’ dominant player for over two decades on display right until the very final point.
Always up for a fight, the 40-year-old came out swinging, forcing Tomljanovic to go the distance. The Australian needed six match points to deliver the knockout punch and bring an end to an engrossing three-plus-hour slugfest.
Williams had signalled her intention to retire last month, saying she was “evolving away from tennis” but never confirming the US Open as her final event.
Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic said it was a surreal experience to play against Williams in what is likely to be the last match of the 23-times Grand Slam champion’s career.
“I’m feeling really sorry just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do. What she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis, is incredible.
“I never thought I’d have a chance to play her in her last match when I remember watching her in all those finals, so this is a surreal moment for me.
“I just thought she would beat me, so the pressure wasn’t on me. Even to the last point, I knew she’s in a position to win even when she’s down 5-1. That’s just who she is and she’s the greatest of all time. Period,” Tomljanovic said.
Former US First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated that Williams had made it to the pinnacle of her sport, despite coming from humble beginnings.
Congrats on an amazing career, @SerenaWilliams!
How lucky were we to be able to watch a young girl from Compton grow up to become one of the greatest athletes of all time.
I'm proud of you, my friend—and I can't wait to see the lives you continue to transform with your talents. pic.twitter.com/VWONEMAwz3
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) September 3, 2022
Golf legend Tiger Woods thanked Williams for inspiring him throughout her career.
.@serenawilliams you’re literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) September 3, 2022
Meanwhile, former tennis world number one Billie Jean King hinted Williams’ would have more to give to the game of tennis.
Her incredible career made its mark on tennis history.
And yet her greatest contributions may be yet to come.
Thank you, @serenawilliams.
Your journey continues. #serena #USOpen https://t.co/0wDFfRN3Dq
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 3, 2022