FAREWELL, Serena Williams. Thanks for all the memories.
For the 1,014th and final time, the American superstar laid down her racket, zipped up her bag and walked off a professional tennis court.
An extraordinary 27-year career that began against-the-odds on the tough streets of Compton in California – one that broke all racial and societal expectations – has finally come to an end here in New York City.
To a standing ovation from nearly 24,000 people, Williams exited the Arthur Ashe Stadium with her swansong US Open tournament ending in the third round following this marathon encounter.
Australian Alja Tomljanovic will forever go down as the last opponent that Williams ever faced across the net.
Williams, a mum of one, plans to “evolve away from tennis” now her Flushing Meadows jaunt is over just a few weeks before her 41st birthday.
This 7-5 6-7 6-1 three-hour loss means Williams finishes one major shy of Margaret Court’s record tally of 24 singles Slams that has stood since 1973.
Williams broke down in tears as she was interviewed on court and Tina Turner’s Simply the Best was played in the background.
She said: “Thank you so much, you guys were amazing. I tried. Alja played a little bit better.
“Thank you daddy, I know you are watching. Thanks mum.
“Everyone that is here, everyone that has been on my side, literally for decades, it all started with my parents.
“They deserved everything. I am really grateful for them. These are happy tears.
“I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t (my sister) Venus. Thank you. She is the only reason why Serena Williams ever existed.
“To my husband, my daughter Olympia, everyone in that box, it has been a fun ride.
“It has been the most incredible ride and journey I have been on my life. I am grateful to every person that has said ‘Go Serena’.
“You never know, but I don’t think that I will be back.”
In the eyes of many, Williams will always be regarded as the “Greatest Of All Time”, irrespective of the fact she will be behind Court, 80, in the record books.
But the 40-year-old is not the same dominant force that she was 5-10 years ago and fatigue possibly played its part as she was defeated over three gruelling sets.
Unlike in the first and second rounds, Williams came into this tie as the pre-match favourite, not the underdog, taking on someone who was appearing for the first time on the biggest permanent tennis court in the world.
Tomljanovic – who was opposite the net when Emma Raducanu had breathing problems at Wimbledon 2021 – won the toss and elected to receive.
It proved to be a wise move as unforced errors from a clearly nervous Williams saw an early break.
But Tomljanovic could not back up that advantage and was immediately broken back.
Williams, who tried to kill the points as quickly as possible and avoid long rallies, broke to move 5-3 ahead and was now serving for the first set.
However Tomljanovic, 29, won the next four games in a row and for the first time this week, Williams found herself a set behind.
Williams responded positively by moving 4-0 ahead and then 5-2 up and even had four set points in the ninth game of the second set.
But it is to Tomljanovic’s credit, when everyone in the stadium was willing against her, when thousands were whooping at her double faults, that she persevered and slowly ground out the points.
Williams had everybody up on their feet when she prevailed in the second-set tie-break and hopes of a magical comeback win remained on the cards.
You just wondered how tired Williams was going to be given that she played in a first-round doubles defeat with her older sister Venus only 24 hours earlier.
And in the third set, it was the younger woman who prevailed as Tomljanovic continued her impressive returning motion.
But to reach the fourth round here for the first time she had to do it the hard way, finally triumphing on her SIXTH match point as Williams refused to yield.
It was always going to be difficult for someone who had barely played in the past year to return to the elite scene and lift one of the four majors.
Credit to Williams for giving it a go and going out fighting — because if anyone had the ability to do the remarkable then she had previous for that.
Especially when she was able to fire down 117mph aces and maintain pace with someone 11 years her junior.
But in the end there will be no golden hue to a distinguished career, arguably the most successful we have ever witnessed in women’s tennis.