NEW YORK — Serena Williams said what is in all likelihood her goodbye to tennis Friday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium, 23 years and 22 Grand Slam titles after winning her first here at the U.S. Open.
She lost to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in a tense, 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-1 match full of the signature power and fight she has employed to rule women’s tennis for the past two decades. In the final game, she staved off six match points and took Tomljanovic to deuce eight times, just two words running through her mind even as the inevitable became clear: “More spin.”
It was the most thrilling night of a week-long run that Williams has called a bonus to her nearly 27-year career.
She announced in Vogue last month that she intends to “evolve” away from tennis and arrived at Flushing Meadows having played just four matches in the past 14 months, winning only one.
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But Williams, who turns 41 this month, exceeded expectations in every fashion. She was feted throughout the week with on-court ceremonies and lavish tribute videos played before every match; celebrities such as Tiger Woods, Anna Wintour, Spike Lee, Russell Wilson and Gladys Knight turned up to watch.
She said she wanted her to play to live up to all the pomp and circumstance; on Friday, it did.
After the final game, Williams held her hand over her heart and mouthed “I love you” to the thundering spectators on their feet in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the site of six of her Grand Slam titles. Her signature twirl and wave followed some time after as she choked back tears, thanked the crowd, then paid tribute to her family — her mother, Oracene; sisters Venus Williams and Isha Price; and husband, Alexis Ohanian, all standing in her player box.
“Thank you, Daddy. I know you’re watching,” Williams said, addressing her father, Richard before tears began falling in earnest. “Thanks, Mom. I just thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side so many years — decades, oh, my gosh, literally decades. But it all started with my
parents, and they deserve everything. … I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you, Venus. She’s the only reason Serena Williams ever existed.