The curtains had to close on Serena Williams’ illustrious career one way or another, but the way it actually unfolded under the bright lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday night did the superstar’s legacy justice.
After a highly competitive, three-set match that featured absolutely superb tennis against a player who grew up idolizing her, Williams’ iconic career came to an admirable end with a 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1 loss to Ajla Tomljanović in front of an adoring crowd.
The fans chanted her name before the 12th game of the second set, which helped propel Williams to keep her hopes of a 24th grand slam title alive. But the chants began to sound like pleas by the third set, which saw Tomljanović storm ahead early as Williams struggled to keep up. 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, leaving everything she had left in the seventh and final game of the third set before Tomljanović finished it off.
Williams gave the crowd one last final twirl, sparkling from the diamonds in her brown curls down to her black Nikes.
Tomljanović proved to be more than just a worthy opponent. The 29-year-old Croatian-turned-Australian wasn’t fazed by her first career appearance in the prime-time spot on Ashe against the greatest of all time. Making Williams earn every point, Tomljanović 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.
What started out as a back-and-forth opening set quickly swung in Williams’ favor as she built a 5-3 lead. Just as quickly as it was built, however, Alja evened it up 5-5 with Williams stumbling into some unforced errors. Alja tied it up with a blistering ace in the 10th game.
Alja continued to handle Williams’ aggressive ways at the net, keeping the superstar at bay whenever she tried to turn up the heat. Minimizing her mistakes, Alja was able to take the first set.
But Williams started to put some unmanageable fire behind her shot and began hitting with intention after that. As a result, she jumped out to a four games to nothing lead.
Alja occasionally struggled with the power behind Williams’ shots, but the Croatian-turned-Australian never truly faltered. She hung in the second set despite falling behind, which included winning a 24-point eighth game that denied Williams the easy 6-2 decision.
Alja just refused to go away and 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.
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