Out of legs and out of time, Serena Williams’s glittering career met its end on the sport’s biggest stage.
On the enormous Arthur Ashe Stadium she met her final match in the shape of Ajla Tomljanovic, who eventually ran away with their US Open third round 7-5 6-7 6-1.
The record will show that Williams lost her last six games, but that would to be ignore three hours and four minutes of an excellent contest in which she breathed defiance until the end.
Serena Williams’s glittering career met its end on the sport’s biggest stage Friday night
The 40-year-old legend of the sport was in tears at the end of but insisted they were ‘happy’
The American star was defeated by Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the US Open third round
She breathed defiance throughout the three hours and four minutes of an excellent contest
She just would not go away even when the situation was near hopeless at the end. In a last game that went on for nearly fifteen minutes she saved five match points, reeling off a series of forehand winners.
‘I tried but Ajla was better. Thank you Daddy I know you are watching, it all started with my parents and they deserve everything so I am really grateful to them,’ she said in an on court interview filled with emotion.
‘These are happy tears. Thank you Venus. It has been a fun ride.’
Williams just would not go away even when the situation was near hopeless at the end
Early on the atmosphere was somewhat less feverish than the previous two matches, as if anticipation had now changed to this being another step on a fortnight’s journey
Tomljanovic walked out to general indifference from the crowd and, as now customary, had to sit and wait while a tribute video was played about her opponent before her rousing arrival.
Although a seasoned professional nothing can quite prepare a player for this. However the Croatian-Australian, 29, will have been stood in good stead by featuring in the night match at Wimbledon last year that saw Emma Raducanu retire.
She benefitted from a loose Williams opener to break, which quelled the initial enthusiasm of the crowd. It was only temporary as Williams broke back to love, firing them up again.
World No. 49 Tomljanovic walked out to general indifference from the home crowd
The American was hitting with impressive depth against a player who prefers to hit relatively straight down the court and the decibels rose when the six-times champion moved ahead for 5-3.
She looked a little tight, however, when trying to serve it out and that ignited a new level from Tomljanovic, who soon had two break points at 5-5 as she skilfully opened the court up.
A beautifully timed backhand down the line brought a second straight break. The Australian, whose game is uncomplicated, blasted her way to three set points and took the third one with forehand that looped onto the line after a couple of nervy errors.
Now Williams would have to come back from a set down for the first time in the week, testing her ageing legs.
The American was hitting with impressive depth against a player who prefers to hit straight
Resilient Williams would have to come back from a set down for the first time in the week
Tomljanovic seemed taken aback when the American changed her strategy at the start of the set, surging forward when she could and playing with outright aggression to shorten the rallies.
It worked a treat as she threw the kitchen sink at her opponent, hitting out with abandon to race to a 4-0 lead in what turned out to be 83-minute second set.
The world number 46 then managed to dig in, never more so than in the epic eighth game. It lasted fifteen minutes and had nine deuces, with Williams creating four set points. She could not finish it and 5-3 quickly became 5-4.
Tomljanovic dug deep after going down 4-0 in the second set and clawed back to a tiebreaker
Its sheer length was sapping, and the older player began to blow hard. She reached a last stand with the tiebreak and moved to 4-1 up. Tomljanovic levelled but then the Williams forehand intervened and she seized it 7-4, with two hours and 12 minutes on the clock.
Could the veteran last? It seemed that way when she broke at the start of the decider, especially as her serve had hugely improved after an uncharacteristically poor start in that department.
The years, though, started to tell against the prime fitness of Tomljanovic, who was already ahead in winning rallies that lasted five shots or longer.
She continued to leave the door slightly ajar but this is surely the end. Asked if that was the case she replied: ‘I think so, you never know,’ before leaving the court promptly.
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