The curtains eventually had to close on Serena Williams’ illustrious career, but the way it actually unfolded under the bright lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night did the superstar’s legacy justice.
After a competitive, three-set match that featured superb tennis against a player who grew up idolizing Williams, the 40-year-old’s iconic career came to an admirable end with a 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic in front of an adoring U.S. Open crowd.
The fans chanted Williams’ name before the 12th game of the second set, which seemed to help propel her, keeping her hopes of a 24th Grand Slam title alive.
But by the third set, in which Tomljanovic stormed ahead early as Williams struggled to keep up, the chants began to sound like pleas: Pleas to stay on the court for as long as she could. Pleas to keep playing the sport that she changed forever. Pleas to prolong the inevitable.
Williams delivered as best as she could, staving off five match points and unleashing everything she had left in the seventh and final game of the third set to prolong the three-hour-plus match before Tomljanovic finished it off following a convincing third-set performance.
“I think, honestly, what I’ll remember most is that my level was coming back,” Williams said after the match with pride in her voice. “I think I’m really grateful for that. It’s great to be playing at such a high level, somehow improving. I don’t know how at my age.
“But I just honestly am so grateful that I had this moment and that I’m Serena, so …”
So Williams gave the crowd one final twirl, sparkling from the diamonds in her brown curls down to her black Nikes. The tears that slipped down her face, seeming to surprise her, glistened, too.
Tomljanovic proved to be more than just a worthy opponent. The 29-year-old Croatian-Australian wasn’t fazed by her first career appearance in the prime-time spot on Ashe against the greatest of all time. Making Williams work for every single point she earned, Tomljanovic played in her moment, not the one on the other side of the net, and she will forever be the one to close out a legend.
After a blistering ace from Tomljanovic evened up the first set, 5-5, Williams’ aggressive ways at the net didn’t have their usual effect and the No. 46-ranked Tomljanovic managed to take the lead in the match.
But Williams started to put some unmanageable fire behind her shot and began hitting with intention. As a result, she jumped out to a 4-0 lead to kick off the middle set. Tomljanovic occasionally struggled to handle that daunting power, but she never truly faltered, and she hung in during the second set, which included winning a 24-point eighth game that denied Williams the easy 6-2 decision.
Tomljanovic ultimately evened the second set, 5-5, before Williams emerged victorious from a tight tiebreaker to keep her U.S. Open singles run and her career going for at least one more set.
“Well, I’ve been down before,” Williams said. “Definitely wasn’t giving up tonight.”
Asked what she hopes to be most remembered for, Williams cited her fight, intensity and passion. She said she feels she really brought something to tennis, perhaps the understatement of the century from one of the most positively overstated personalities the sport has ever seen.
“I don’t know,” Williams said when asked if there might be wiggle room on her retirement, which she alluded to in her on-court interview. “I’m not thinking about that. I always did love Australia, though.”
Source: New York Post