Tributes flood in as Serena Williams loses final career match (VIDEO)
A variety of influential figures such as Michelle Obama and Tiger Woods have paid tribute to tennis great Serena Williams after she stepped away from her legendary career following her third round defeat to Ajla Tomljanovic at the US Open.
Wins against Danka Kovinic and Anett Kontaveit in the opening rounds of the competition had given a glimmer of hope to Williams' legions of fans that the 40-year-old might enjoy a fairytale ending to her career, but hopes of what would have been a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam victory were dashed by Tomljanovic, who won in three sets and despite a second set comeback from the American.
Williams endured a nervy start, dropping her serve in the first game of the match but rallied and earned a break of her own against her Croatian-Australian opponent, carving out an early 5-3 lead.
But some of the inconsistencies which have blighted her latter career began to show, with Williams' serve suddenly looking frail and she allowed Tomljanovic back into the match after losing four straight games - a deficit she would not overcome in the first.
here's just one of the points of this incredible game: pic.twitter.com/daCKqs1NCy— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 3, 2022
The second, though, showcased some of the power tennis which fans of the sport have become so accustomed to over the past two decades. Her serve was once again lively, allowing her to surge into a 4-0 lead before Tomljanovic once again fought back only to lose the second set in a tiebreak to Williams.
Williams started strongly in the third, again breaking Tomljanovic's serve but the physical toll of what was becoming a gruelling match began to show as she began to slow.
At 5-1 down, she was given a standing ovation by the capacity crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium as it became apparent that the final throes of an iconic career were being witnessed.
She showed once last act of defiance as she saved five match points. The sixth, though, was a bridge too far bring a close to the match as well as one of this generation's most enduring sporting legacies.
“Thank you so much, you guys were amazing. I tried. Thank you daddy, I know you’re watching. Thanks mom,” a tearful Williams said afterwards.
“I just thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side for so many years, literally decades, But it all started with my parents and they deserve everything so I’m really grateful for them. And I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you Venus. It’s been a fun ride.”
Congrats on an amazing career, @SerenaWilliams!How lucky were we to be able to watch a young girl from Compton grow up to become one of the greatest athletes of all time.I'm proud of you, my friend—and I can't wait to see the lives you continue to transform with your talents. pic.twitter.com/VWONEMAwz3— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) September 3, 2022
.@serenawilliams you’re literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) September 3, 2022
Williams' impact not just on tennis but on sporting culture as a whole was assessed by a myriad of admirers shortly afterwards.
Former US First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted: “Congrats on an amazing career, @SerenaWilliams! How lucky were we to be able to watch a young girl from Compton grow up to become one of the greatest athletes of all time.
“I'm proud of you, my friend - and I can't wait to see the lives you continue to transform with your talents.”
Another generational talent, Tiger Woods, added: “You’re literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!”
NBA star LeBron James added his voice to the mix, saying: “What you've done for the sport of tennis, what you've done for women and what you've done just for the category of sport - period - is unprecedented.
“It's been an honor to watch your journey, to watch you conquer all the goals that you ever set out.”