In a historic moment, 23 years after she won her first Grand Slam title at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams, in the same venue, played the last match of her career.
Last night, the Greatest of All Time lost to Ajla Tomljanović in the third round at the US Open.
Throughout the three-hour match, the adoring New York City crowd roared in cheers for Williams as she showed again and again why she is the GOAT. But at the end, Tomljanović, who is considered 46th in the world, beat Williams 7-6, 6-7, 6-1 in what would instantly become an iconic and bittersweet defeat.
In the last minute, Williams hit a ball to the net, giving Tomljanović her winning point. With tears streaming down her face, the tennis pro put her hand over her heart and took in the crowd. In the stands, fans including Bella Hadid, Ciara, Gayle King, and Spike Lee clapped, cheered, and cried with her, while giving her a standing ovation. Williams twirled her signature twirl and gave a final wave before stepping off the court to Tina Turner‘s “Simply the Best.”
Harper’s BAZAAR was among the attendees last night at the stadium’s American Express Centurion suite—where members are offered immersive tennis experiences and fine dining throughout the tournament—where screens zoomed in on Williams as she gave an emotional post-match interview on the court.
“Oh my god, thank you so much, you guys were amazing today,” she said. “Thank you, Daddy, I know you’re watching. Thanks, Mom. Thank you everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side—so many years, literally decades. But it all started with my parents, and they deserve everything. So I’m really grateful for them.”
“These are happy tears, I guess. I don’t know,” she continued. “And I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you Venus. She’s the only reason Serena Williams ever existed … It’s been a fun ride. It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve ever been on.”
In her court interview, Tomljanovic, too, praised Williams.
“I’m feeling really sorry, just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do. And what she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis, is incredible,” she said, calling the moment—her first time passing the quarterfinals at any major—”surreal.”
“I just thought she would beat me. … She’s Serena. That’s that’s just who she is: She’s the greatest of all time. Period,” Tomljanovic added.
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Williams announced her retirement from tennis last month, in an emotional essay published on Vogue, in which she wrote candidly about the point she is at in her life—and the balancing act she plays every day, trying to be both the world-renowned star athlete she is on the tennis court and the mom and wife her family needs her to be. She said that though it was not an easy choice to make, she is ready for the next phase and looking forward to expanding her family.
“I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next,” she wrote. “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to look at this magazine when it comes out, knowing that this is it, the end of a story that started in Compton, California, with a little Black girl who just wanted to play tennis. This sport has given me so much.”
“But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment,” she added. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst. But please know that I am more grateful for you than I can ever express in words. You have carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I’m going to miss you.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.