Serena Williams has waved an emotional goodbye to tennis after she lost to Ajla Tomljanovic at the US Open in New York.
It is expected to be the final match for the 40-year-old, who announced her plans to retire last month, adding she hoped to have a second child.
The 23-time grand-slam champion put on a show for a star-studded crowd, but ultimately succumbed to a 7-5 6-7 (4) 6-1 loss in the third round of the tournament on Friday.
Williams, who played her first professional tennis match back in 1995 as a 14-year-old, walked calmly to the net after missing a final forehand before waving to all sides of Arthur Ashe Stadium while ‘Simply The Best’ played over the loudspeakers. Addressing the crowd through tears, Williams said: “Thank you so much, you guys were amazing. I tried. Thank you daddy, I know you’re watching. Thanks mom. “I just thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side for so many years, literally decades.
"But it all started with my parents and they deserve everything so I’m really grateful for them.
And I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t (sister) Venus, so thank you Venus. It’s been a fun ride.”
It was fitting for Williams to bow out of the game at the US Open, the scene of her first grand slam singles title 23 years ago, as well as her most controversial moments and where she has ultimately been embraced as America’s greatest tennis star. Having been unsure whether to give her career one last go this summer, she was surely left in no doubt that it was the right decision. “This week has been really great,” she said. “Just so much support, so much love. It was really amazing and overwhelming. I am so grateful for it.
"The whole crowd was really wanting to push me past the line. I’m so thankful and grateful for that.”
How the game played out
Williams produced a tremendous level considering she has played very little tennis in the last 18 months. She looked set to win the first set when she moved 5-3 ahead but her serve, the shot that has been her biggest weapon, was not quite working and, as she tightened up, Tomljanovic took advantage, winning four games in a row. Williams responded brilliantly, moving 4-0 ahead in the second, but the surety that would have accompanied such a lead for most of her career is no longer there and back came Tomljanovic again. Williams missed four set points in a long eighth game but, three points away from the end at 4-4 in the tie-break, she took a deep breath, served an ace and forced a decider. The delirious crowd were on their feet, and Williams began the third set in perfect fashion by again breaking Tomljanovic’s serve. But, with the match approaching the three-hour mark, the physical effort Williams had put in began to take its toll and she had little more left to give. At 5-1, Williams was given a pre-emptive standing ovation. She hung on grimly, saving five match points in vintage fashion, but with the sixth it was all over.
Having thought her career might have ended with an injury-enforced retirement at Wimbledon last year, this was definitely a far more fitting way to bow out, but one that also leaves Williams knowing she can still compete at the top of the game. “I’ve come a long way since last year at Wimbledon,” she said. “Making it a different moment I think is much better. “It takes a lot of work to get here. Clearly I’m still capable. It takes a lot more than that. I’m ready to be a mom, explore a different version of Serena. Technically in the world I’m still super young, so I want to have a little bit of a life while I’m still walking.” She has been reluctant to completely shut the door on another whirl, adding with a smile, “I always did love Australia, though.”
Williams has been open about wanting another child, as well as to spend more time with her five-year-old daughter Olympia. She anticipates a role in tennis in the future, saying: “Tennis has been such a huge part of my life, I can’t imagine not being involved in tennis. I don’t know what that involvement is yet.” The flood of tributes from not just the sporting world but across the spectrum spoke of Williams’ huge influence, which will endure for many years to come. Asked how she wanted to be remembered, Williams said: “There’s so many things. Like the fight. I’m such a fighter. I feel like I really brought something, and bring something, to tennis. “The different looks, the fist pumps, the just-crazy intensity. Passion, I think, is a really good word. Just continuing through ups and downs. I could go on and on. But I just honestly am so grateful that I had this moment and that I’m Serena.” Tomljanovic, who will next play Liudmila Samsonova, handled herself with great dignity and described the moment as “surreal”. She said: “I’m feeling really sorry because I love Serena just as much as you guys do. What she’s done for the sport of tennis is incredible. I never thought I’d have the chance to play her in her last match when I was a kid watching all those finals.”
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Who are tennis power-duo sisters Serena and Venus Williams?
Williams has 23 grand slam singles titles to her name - the most in the Open era, and 39 slam titles overall.
But it has not been a journey she has undertaken alone, as she has been joined by her elder sister, fellow tennis pro - and oftentimes fierce competitor -Venus Williams.
There are only 15 months between Serena and Venus, and the star sisters’ relationship has formed the centre of their lives and careers.
The emergence and subsequent dominance of the sisters forced tennis to confront - not always willingly - its attitudes to race and strong women on the court.
Serena followed her older sister into the sport on glass-strewn courts in Compton, Los Angeles. The dynamic has played out through their professional careers - with Venus leading the way but swiftly being overtaken by Serena, the younger sister’s determination to have things her way making her a steely competitor.
Serena was the first of the pair to win a slam singles title, at the US Open in 1999 - just a couple of weeks short of her 18th birthday. The excitement around the sisters was enormous but, as they grew to become dominant forces in the women’s games, tennis grew less welcoming.
Home support was far from guaranteed in the US. One high profile episode came at the Indian Wells Masters in 2001 when fans jeered Serena after suspecting foul play in Venus’ withdrawal ahead of a semi-final clash with her sister.
Venus and the siblings' father, Richard Williams, said they were racially abused in the stands.
The sisters boycotted the event for more than a decade.
Away from tennis, Serena has always pursued her interests, particularly in fashion and philanthropic work in Africa.
She and Venus founded the Yetunde Price Resource Center in memory of their murdered half-sister to help families affected by violence in Compton.
Serena has found a growing political voice on black and gender rights and, following the birth of her daughter, as a mother.