There will be no fairytale ending for Serena Williams at the US Open. After two inspiring wins in Flushing Meadows, the American superstar’s farewell tour was halted in the third round on Friday night with an emotional defeat to Aussie Alja Tomjlanovic.
Her victories in the first two rounds had raised hopes of one last dream run and a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title. But in the final set, reality bit as Williams was made to look like a player who has hardly played in the last 15 months will turn 41 later this month.
Urged on by her home crowd, the world No.605 fought against the dying of the light by saving five match points after losing five consecutive games in the final set. Each was greeted like winning the final point of a Major.
Typically, she battled till the end but Tomljanovic still took the final six games to win 7-5 6-7 6-1 in just over three hours. Williams’ final defeat was still met with a standing ovation in the packed Arthur Ashe Stadium and the song “Simply the Best” was played.
The only previous time the six-time champion had lost in the third round at the US Open before was on her debut in 1998 when she went down to Irina Spirlea as a 16-year-old. There was a certain symmetry to it.
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Williams had announced she will “evolve away” from tennis last month and her first two matches here were billed as farewell parties. But after beating world No.2 Anett Kontaveit, there was a less febrile atmosphere in the Arthur Ashe Stadium and more a sense of expectation.
And Aussie No.1 Tomljanovic helped calm the crowd with a solid first set with Williams. The pair swapped early breaks before Williams, attacking the world No.46’s weak second serve, broke again to lead 5-3 and serve for the first set.
But just like against Kontaveit on Wednesday at exactly the same score, Williams failed to close out the set and sailed a forehand long on the second break point.
And Tomljanovic took the momentum to win four consecutive games to take her first set point with a forehand cross-court winner after 50 minutes. The Aussie’s tactics of moving the 40-year-old around the court was paying off.
And Williams tumbled chasing a short ball at the start of the second but she got up to win the next four games. But after the Aussie No.1 saved four set points in a marathon 15-minute game at 2-5, she won the next three games to draw the match level.
In the tiebreak, the American raced to a 4-1 lead and set up a fifth set point with a forehand winner down the line. She drew the match level after an 83-minute set by forcing a Tomljanovic forehand error following a fierce forehand return. Williams hit 26 winners in the 83-minute set.
The American continued the momentum by breaking in the first game of the final set but then Tomljanovic – and time – caught up with her as she lost the next five games.
With her husband Alex urging: “Go Mamma” from her player’s box, Williams fought back tears to save five match points before the Aussie finally closed it out when the American hit a forehand into the net.
Tomljanovic will play Russian world No.35 Liudmila Samsonova, who has won titles in Washington and Cleveland last month, in the next round