Serena Williams waved farewell to the US Open – and her illustrious career – amid emotional scenes after she lost to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic on a thrilling night in New York.
Williams, who turns 41 this month, expects it to be her final match.
It will end a 27-year professional career that brought 23 major singles wins and sees the American widely labelled as the greatest of all time.
Williams lost 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 and had tears running down her face afterwards.
The former long-time world number one saved five match points in what proved to be the final game but was powerless to stop a sixth.
Almost everyone who could rose to their feet when she departed the court on Arthur Ashe Stadium – the scene of her first major triumph in 1999 and five more of the finest wins in her storied career – for what she intends to be the last time.
As she waved goodbye and gave a signature twirl, Tina Turner’s pop classic ‘Simply The Best’ boomed out over the sound system.
Asked if she would reconsider retiring after her performances this week, Williams said: “I’m literally playing my way into this and getting better. I should have started sooner this year. I don’t think so, but you never know.”
Williams was overcome with emotion when she was interviewed in the middle of the court, thanking her family, team, the crowd and her fans across the world for their support over the years.
“I thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side so many years, decades. Oh my gosh, literally decades,” said Williams, who played her first professional tournament as a 14-year-old in 1995.
“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. She’s the only reason that Serena Williams ever existed.”
Tomljanovic, who moves into the fourth round and plays Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova, stepped to the side and applauded her opponent as she took the microphone.
The world number 46 produced a phenomenal performance to block out the noise and sense of occasion, illustrated by her clinical hitting in the final stages of a brutal contest which lasted three hours and five minutes.