Serena Williams wore her recreation face when she stepped out into the stadium for her first match since telling the world she is able to go away skilled tennis.
Greeted by a standing ovation, the 23-time Grand Slam champion didn’t smile. She didn’t wave. She took a sip from a plastic bottle as she walked in. Some of us within the crowd captured the second with the cameras on their cellphones. Others held aloft handrawn indicators — oh, so many indicators — with messsages reminiscent of “Queen” or “Thanks.”
Nobody is aware of precisely what number of extra matches Williams will play earlier than she places her rackets away for good, and the 40-year-old American exited the Nationwide Financial institution Open on Wednesday evening with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Belinda Bencic.
Whereas there have been some acquainted fist pumps and yells of “Come on!” throughout competitors, it was solely afterward that Williams actually allowed her emotions to indicate, her voice shaking and her eyes welling throughout an on-court interview when Bencic ceded the highlight.
“A variety of feelings, clearly,” Williams informed spectators who supplied her encouragement all through the clear, 75-degree night.
The second-round match on the hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open got here a day after she introduced “the countdown has begun” on her taking part in profession, saying she needs to have one other baby and pursue enterprise pursuits.
She didn’t state exactly what her final occasion can be, however did make it sound as if her last farewell will come on the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29 in New York. Williams has gained the singles title at Flushing Meadows a half-dozen occasions — first in 1999; most lately in 2014 — to go together with seven championships apiece at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, plus three on the French Open.
“It’s been a reasonably fascinating 24 hours,” Williams stated after Wednesday’s match.
“I’m horrible at goodbyes,” she added, her hand on her chest, “however goodbye, Toronto!”
Subsequent up on her schedule is the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati subsequent week, one other occasion that serves as preparation for the 12 months’s final Grand Slam match.
Williams, a three-time champion in Canada, began this match, fittingly sufficient, with an ace. Delivered one other later in that recreation, too, displaying off the very good serve that helped her to so many match victories, so many match titles, so many weeks at No. 1 within the rankings.
That elite skill confirmed up sometimes towards Bencic, whether or not the trio of unreturnable serves to shut out that opening recreation or a later putaway swinging volley accented with a shout and a tug on the brim of her white visor.
However due to a leg harm that sidelined her for the final half of 2021 and first half of 2022, she was taking part in for less than the third time up to now 12 months. There have been indicators of that, as properly, and of why Williams is now not the dominant drive she was for therefore lengthy.
The breaks of her serve that had been by no means fairly so frequent when she was youthful and on the peak of her powers. The not-quite-on-target groundstrokes. The lack to supply up an excessive amount of resistance whereas receiving serve; she solely earned one break level within the first set, lacking a return lengthy to burn up that likelihood, and none within the second.
“I want I may have performed higher,” Williams stated, “however Belinda performed so properly right this moment.”
It didn’t assist Williams that she was going through an opponent 15 years her junior and fairly gifted, as well: Bencic is ranked twelfth, gained a gold medal for Switzerland on the Tokyo Olympics final 12 months and has been a Grand Slam semifinalist.
“It is at all times an honor to be on the court docket together with her,” Bencic stated, “and that is why I believe tonight is about her.”
Bencic took dwelling the Toronto trophy at age 18 in 2015, when she eradicated Williams within the semifinals to earn the excellence of being the youngest girl to beat a participant many take into account, as one do-it-yourself poster within the stands declared Wednesday, the “GOAT” — the best of all-time.
Within the late match, Bianca Andreescu — the ultimate Canadian left within the singles draw — beat Alize Cornet 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Andreescu gained the match in 2019 when Williams retired within the last match due to again issues.
Bencic superior to face two-time main champion Garbiñe Muguruza, who beat Kaia Kanepi 6-4, 6-4. Seeded gamers who left the draw Wednesday included No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, No. 4 Paula Badosa, No. 5 Ons Jabeur, No. 13 Leylah Fernandez and No. 16 Jelena Ostapenko.
Jabeur, the Wimbledon runner-up final month, stopped within the second set towards Zheng Qinwen due to belly ache. Badosa cited muscle cramping for her mid-match retirement whereas trailing Yulia Putintseva.
Fernandez, the Canadian who was the U.S. Open runner-up final 12 months, misplaced 7-6 (4), 6-1 to Beatriz Haddad Maia, whereas Alison Riske-Amritraj defeated 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko 7-6 (2), 0-6, 7-5.