Serena Williams hit the road to a glorious farewell

It was a match point that Serena Williams faced many times. It was her point in a career and amazing new territory for her one of the greatest athletes of all time.

But like no other at the U.S. Open this night, Williams stayed true to herself and her competitive spirit on Friday, when the end of 27 years as a professional tennis player suddenly became very real. became the property of

Yes, Adjula Tomljanovic was looking to serve a fourth round place, going 40-30 with a 5-1 lead in the third set. But Williams, clearly tired after nearly three hours of corner-to-corner tennis, was not yet ready to accept what seemed inevitable.

She saved one match point with a swinging backhand volley. She saved her a second with a cocksure her forehand her approach that Tomljanovic couldn’t handle. She saved one of her thirds and was the winner of her return with a clean forehand that had fans screaming into her sold-out Arthur Ashe stadium. yet! “

“I’ve been down before,” Williams later said. “In my career, I don’t think I ever gave up. In a game, I don’t give up. I definitely didn’t give up tonight.”

She saved her fourth match point. She saved her one of her fifth minutes, but it was clear Williams would get a decent finish as winners and bellows and fists came out one after another.

Winning a record 24th Grand Slam singles title in his farewell tournament at age 40 has always been a big chance. Given all the matches and miles on her legs, and all the rust on her game over the last few weeks, an exciting final dance wasn’t guaranteed either.

However, she retrieved it in New York. She evoked it with all her pride and strength and will. She found her familiar gear in the second set of her first-round win over Danka Kovinic. And when she defeated No. 2 seed Annette her Kontaveit in the next round, she stayed in that groove, a tall, elegant bassline who represented Australia but lives in Florida and was born and raised in Croatia. I played against the player Tomljanovic.

Barring a major change of heart from a much more famous opponent, Tomljanovic will answer the trivia question, “Who was the last person to face Serena Williams in an official match?”

However, Williams slammed a low forehand into the net, failing to fend off a sixth career point, but at Flushing Meadows, he hit a far more appropriate final note than if he had chosen to forego this final comeback. I hit

At Wimbledon last year, she retired with a foot injury before the first set of her first round was over and cried as she limped off the grass on Center Court, where she had won so many times.

She was 39 at the time and took about a year to return to competition. But her on-court post-game interview on Friday night brought tears to her eyes for a different reason, and her return to play also gave her a measure of what she was looking for. What I got was clear.

She has her fans, including her parents, Richard Williams and Oracine Price, and her older sister, Venus Williams, watching from the player box just as Serena took her family’s first win. And to thank her family, she gave herself an appropriately grand stage: a Grand Slam singles title at the 1999 US Open. They went on to win 29 more, Serena finishing with her 23 and Venus almost certainly with her current 7, although she hasn’t retired yet.

“Thank you Venus,” said Serena, “I wouldn’t be Serena without Venus.” “She is the only reason Serena Williams exists.”

Williams still struggled to use the word “retirement” on Friday, but the WTA Tour did nothing to celebrate Williams’ epic career. When asked if I needed it, I didn’t give it much wiggle room.

i don’t think about it. But I’ve always loved Australia,” she says with a smile, referring to the next Grand Slam event on her calendar, the Australian Open in January.

But it sounded more playful than serious, and she was quick to reflect and talk about motherhood and life away from competition. That’s what she’s already experienced during the coronavirus pandemic and in her recent years away from tennis.

“It takes a lot of work to get here,” she said of the US Open. I’m ready to explore Serena, technically speaking I’m still very young in the world and would love to live a little bit of my life while I’m still walking.

Of course, that’s Williams’ call (of course!), but it seems like the right choice and the right time. She’s right that her levels this week have often been remarkably surprisingly high, but the last time she lost a US Open singles so early was in her first singles appearance in 1998. It is also true.

Tomljanovic took pride on Friday, effectively countering Williams’ signature power and handling the highly partisan and sometimes unsportsmanlike crowd with great poise and dignity. cheered on Tomljanovic’s serve mistakes and errors, with some fans chanting “Serena!” as the match drew to a close. In the middle of service motion.

She imagined Novak Djokovic cheering on “Novak” instead of “Roger” in a very supportive atmosphere for Roger Federer during the 2015 US Open men’s singles final. He said he borrowed a trick that broke the

“I mean, I used it,” Tomljanovic said. “And I also blocked it as much as I could. Internally, it got to me a few times. I personally didn’t get it. I mean, if I wasn’t playing Selena, , I was also rooting for Serena. But it definitely wasn’t easy.”

Tomljanovic regrouped admirably after Williams won the second set in a tiebreaker and broke Tomljanovic’s serve in the first game of the third set. Tomljanovic also hit all the right notes gracefully and respectfully in his on-court interview, despite his hesitation in chasing Williams into the mic.

“I’ve known Ajra since I was 12 and I’ve never been more proud of her,” said Tomljanovic’s former coach, who was watching the game from afar in Aspen, Colorado. World No. 1 Chris Evert said. , one of her sons was to be married on Saturday.

A win for Tomljanovic will no doubt give Netflix premium content. Netflix has been following her and several other players closely throughout the season to film her version of tennis for her behind-the-scenes car-racing series Formula 1: Drive to Survive.

But Tomljanovic, who dominated the final six games that will almost certainly be Williams’ final match, is also an unseeded 29-year-old veteran who has never been in the top 30 in the world and is still out of the quarterfinals. not. at big competitions. That she had the tools to go head-to-head with Williams and win is another hint to her that the days when Williams was at the top of her game are truly gone.

Williams’ stamina and speed were waning as it became clear on Friday as the match lasted well over two hours into the third set. That’s understandable in light of her lack of match play in recent months and all the physical and emotional energy the public had been absorbing and consuming by yelling at her. Played an intense doubles match at Ashe Stadium, losing in two close sets to Venus.

But there’s no denying the reality that she looked behind the ball and often wasn’t anywhere near it as Tomljanovic broke the baseline rally by shooting the winner and taking a 5-1 lead. .

For a split second, it looked like Williams, one of the most ferocious players in tennis history, was going to finish fast.

Instead, she dug deeper, drew strength from past revivals, and once again showed no fear of swinging the line when a Grand Slam match was at stake.

Were we really that amazing?

As the points and great escapes piled up, ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, sitting courtside, turned to us in the same row and rolled his eyes.

Not a bad decision, but it would be better if this was the final documentary about the week Williams shrugged off the rust in the three final rounds, winning and winning the crowd and everyone who followed her for nearly 30 years. maybe. It’s a reminder of her setbacks, what made her great.

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