Serena Williams bid a tearful farewell to Canada after being defeated 6-2 6-4 by Belinda Bencic on Wednesday night.
Anyways, this is what it is! It's been a pretty interesting 24 hours. Serena Williams
The American 23-time Grand Slam singles champion signalled her pending retirement after the US Open in a first-hand essay published in the September edition of Vogue that hit the streets on Tuesday, prompting an out-pouring of good wishes and reminiscences.
Her 2nd-round defeat at the hands of the reigning Olympic gold medallist was hardly unexpected, with the 40-year-old competing in only her 3rd singles match of the year.
With her 41st birthday next month, Williams won her first match in 430 days against Spanish qualifier Nuria Parrizas Diaz in her opening round on Monday, 6-3 6-4, but she could not fend off the Swiss 12th seed, who said after the match that ‘Tonight is about her’.
“It was a lot of emotions obviously,” an emotional Serena told the crowd in her on-court interview. “I love playing here, I’ve always loved playing here.
“I wish I could have played better tonight, but Belinda was playing so well.”
Williams refuses to use the word ‘retirement’, preferring the euphemism ‘evolving away from tennis’, but it is clear enough that the end of her stunning, record-breaking career is nigh, now unranked and with thoughts turning to producing a sibling for her 5-year old daughter, Olympia.
“It definitely felt very special to be on court with her today again,” Bencic said “For me it was great, great, opportunity.”
US teenager Coco Gauff says Williams was ‘the reason why I play tennis’, while World No 1 Iga Swiatek admitted she was ‘pretty sad’ that she has not had the chance to play the American.
“I would probably be the player that loses in the quarter-final against her,” Swiatek said. “Being able to kind of do business and tennis at the same time, but also be a mother and play well, and do four Grand Slam finals, it’s amazing,” the 21-year old Pole added.
“I think nobody is going to repeat that. I would be happy to have that belief that, maybe, I can do that.”
Swiatek has won 6 titles this year, and ended a 37-match winning streak when she lost in the 3rd-round at Wimbledon.
In the 2nd-round match in Toronto, Bencic who alongside Serena is also a former Canadian Open champion, fired 8 aces and broke Williams twice in the first set, and once in the second, advancing on her first match point after 78 minutes.
In a rematch of their memorable semi-final duel on this very court in 2015, Bencic was able to control the match from start to finish with her serve.
The 25-year-old Swiss faced just a single break point in the match, which she saved, and she kept the return pressure on Williams from the very first game.
After winning the toss and electing to receive, Bencic earned her first 2 break points in the opening game, which the American saved with clutch serving, but the Swiss went on to seal the set in 41 minutes.
The second stayed level as Williams’ found more success behind her serve, but Bencic finally got the break at 3-3 when the American coughed up a double-fault, and the Swiss closed out the win, finishing with 25 winners to 13 unforced errors, while her opponent struck 13 winners to 18 unforced errors.
“Of course it’s super nice, but today it’s a little bit more sad in a way,” said Bencic. “I don’t really want her to retire.
“I feel like I’ve always, in a way, you know, what she’s achieved and everything, all her legacy and career and everything. But now that it’s soon to be over I feel like people, and me included, are realising it even more.
“Just standing on the court against her today was just, yeah, really overwhelming, I would say.
“In a way with her, it feels almost like I’m star struck every time I see her,” Bencic added. “So it’s difficult to play her.
“It’s difficult to kind of put that aside and just like focus on the match. Because I feel like I just don’t know how I then play because I feel like I’m paralysed a little bit just like watching her.
“The crowd was incredible tonight. Just being part of that whole thing, it’s just really very special for me as well and for her.
“And I think US Open it’s going to be even more special. So good luck to everyone who has to play her.”
As for Serena, who has lifted the US Open title 6 times, including her first Grand Slam triumph at the age of 17 in 1999, she reflected: “Anyways, this is what it is! It’s been a pretty interesting 24 hours.”
She is still is one major title short of Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams, but with the tennis gods on her side, she just may have one last shot at equalling that record in New York.
Ahead of the match a video tribute was played in the stadium and, afterwards, Serna stayed on the court, fighting off tears as she bid farewell to the Toronto crowd, receiving flowers, gifts and words of appreciation.
While Williams has committed to play at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati next week, as well as the US Open later this month, Bencic next will face Garbiñe Muguruza, the 8th seed from Spain, in the round of 16.