Arguably the greatest career in the history of tennis has seemingly come to an end. Serena Williams is out of the 2022 US Open after a 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday night.
It was a tight match throughout, highlighted by big momentum swings and incredible shotmaking by both players. But what will be remembered more than anything that happened in the actual match will be the lasting image of what very-well may be the final time Williams took the court at the US Open.
The 40-year-old, 23-time Grand Slam champion’s plan to move away from tennis has been well documented since she made the announcement in early August that her playing days were coming to a close as she looks forward to growing her family and business ventures.
While there will be a lifetime to grow and nurture her home life as she transitions away from the court, this night was about her lifetime spent on it. Over the last two decades, Williams has regularly said she gets every player’s best shot, and that’s what she got in her third-round loss to Tomljanovic, whose grit and mental toughness were reminiscent of the icon across the net.
Down 5-3 in the first set and then 5-2 in the second, Tomljanovic kept pressure on Williams’ forehand which was shaky tonight and accounted for many of her 51 unforced errors to battle back and win the first set and force a second-set tie break, before closing the deal in the third.
But it wasn’t easy. Williams saved five match points down 5-1 in the third set, before her final shot went into the net to end the match. As excellent as the match was, with big momentum swings and both players collecting games in big chunks throughout the match, the images that will be remembered will be the lasting sights of Serena Williams — widely thought of as the greatest player of all time — thanking everyone in her post-match interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It’s been a fun ride,” Williams said after three hours and four minutes on the court — the longest US Open match of her career. “It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve ever been on in my life. I’m just so grateful to every single person that’s ever said ‘Go Serena’ in their life. I’m just so grateful because you got me here.”
Across the net, Tomljanovic had the tall order of trying to advance further than she ever has at the US Open, but at the expense of one of her heroes in the sport.
“I’m feeling really sorry just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do,” Tomljanovic said. “What she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis is just incredible. I never thought I’d have a chance to play her in her last match when I was a kid watching her in all those finals. This is a surreal moment for me.”
After calling Serena Williams the greatest player of all-time, Tomljanovic spoke about the impact of one of the most legendary athletes in the world.
“She embodies that no dream is too big, and it doesn’t matter where you come from, the circumstances, you can do anything if you believe in yourself, you love what you do and you have an incredible support system and family around you,” Tomljanovic said.
As for Williams, who’s likely to ride off into the sunset into a next phase of life, she’s ready to move on, but wasn’t quite ready to commit to not ever stepping on the court again when she was asked if she’d ever return.
“I don’t think so, but you never know,” Williams said.
As for Tomljanovic, she’ll have to regroup after a three-hour physical and emotional rollercoaster, as she takes on Liudmila Samsonova in the fourth round on Sunday.