TORONTO (AP) — Serena Williams put on her game face as she entered the stadium for her first match since telling the world she’s ready to leave professional tennis.
Greeted by a standing ovation, the 23-time Grand Slam champion did not smile. She didn’t say hello. She took a sip from a plastic bottle as she entered. Some people in the crowd captured the moment on their cell phone cameras. Others held up hand-drawn banners — oh, so many banners — with messages like “Queen” or “Thank you.”
No one knows exactly how many more matches Williams will play before she puts her rackets away for good, and the 40-year-old American exited the National Bank Open on Wednesday night with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Belinda Bencic.
While there were some familiar fist pumps and shouts of “Come on!” during the competition, it was only after Williams really allowed his feelings to show, his voice trembling and his eyes filling with tears during an on-court interview that Bencic receded into the limelight.
“A lot of emotions, obviously,” Williams told cheering onlookers during the cloudless 75-degree night.
The second-round match at the hard-court tryout for the US Open came a day after she announced that “the countdown has begun” on her playing career, saying she wants to have another child and pursue business interests. .
He did not say precisely what his last event will be, but hinted that his final farewell will come at the US Open, which begins on August 29 in New York. Williams has won the singles title at Flushing Meadows six times, first in 1999, most recently in 2014, to go with seven championships each at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and three at the French Open.
“It’s been a pretty interesting 24 hours,” Williams said after Wednesday’s game.
“I’m terrible at goodbyes,” he added, hand on chest, “but bye-bye, Toronto!”
Next on his agenda is the Western & Southern Open next week in Cincinnati, another event that serves as a buildup to the final Grand Slam tournament of the year.
Williams, a three-time champion in Canada, began this match, appropriately enough, with an ace. He delivered another one later in that game, showing off the excellent serve that helped her to so many match wins, so many tournament titles, so many weeks at No. 1 in the rankings.
That elite skill was on display from time to time against Bencic, whether it be the trio of unrecoverable serves to close out that opening game or a subsequent volley punctuated by a scream and a tug at the edge of his white visor.
But due to a leg injury that sidelined her for the last half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, she was playing for only the third time in the last 12 months. There were also signs of that, and why Williams is no longer the dominant force that she was for so long.
The breaks in his serve that were never that frequent when he was younger and at the height of his powers. Groundstrokes that miss the target. The inability to offer too much resistance when receiving the service; he earned just one break point in the first set, missing a long return to waste that chance, and none in the second.
“I wish I could have played better,” Williams said, “but Belinda played really well today.”
It didn’t help Williams that she was facing an opponent 15 years her junior and quite talented: Bencic is ranked 12th, won a gold medal for Switzerland at the Tokyo Olympics last year and has been a Grand Slam semi-finalist.
“It’s always an honor to be on the court with her,” Bencic said, “and that’s why I think tonight is about her.”
Bencic took home the trophy from Toronto as an 18-year-old in 2015, when she eliminated Williams in the semifinals to earn the distinction of being the youngest woman to beat a player many consider to be, as a homemade sign in the stands read. on Wednesday, the “GOAT”: The best of all time.