Serena Williams waves to the crowd(R) as she leaves the court after losing to Belinda Bencic during the National Bank Open in Toronto on Wednesday. AFP
The second-round defeat by Switzerland's reigning Olympic gold medallist was hardly unexpected, with the 40-year-old Williams competing in only her third match of 2022.
Bencic fired eight aces and broke Williams twice in the first set and once in the second, advancing on her first match point after 78 minutes. But as Bencic herself said in the post-match interview on court: "tonight is about her."
Williams's farewell on-court interview was threaded with emotion. "I love playing here, I've always loved playing here," she said, choking up as fans who cheered her throughout the match called out their appreciation. "I wish I could have played better tonight, but Belinda was playing so well."
Williams, who turns 41 next month, had beaten Spain's Nuria Parrizas Diaz on Monday for her first singles victory since the 2021 French Open, 14 months ago.
Serena Williams shakes hands with Belinda Bencic after being defeated in her final match in Toronto.
But it sent shockwaves through the sport when she revealed in an essay in Vogue magazine and an Instagram post on Tuesday that "the countdown has begun" to her retirement from the sport.
Williams didn't specify an actual retirement date but is expected to compete next week in Cincinnati before travelling to the US Open, which starts on August 29.
She has lifted the US Open title six times, including her first Grand Slam triumph at the age of 17 in 1999.
"It's been a pretty interesting 24 hours," said Williams, who remains one shy of the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles won by Margaret Court.
"Like I said in my article, I'm terrible at goodbyes," she said, her voice breaking. "But, goodbye," she said, then adding with a laugh "Toronto."
'A joy playing here'
"I've always had an amazing time here on and off the court," Williams said. "I've had some really good matches and some really cool wins. "It's been a joy playing here all of those years."
Williams's match was preceded by a video tribute played for fans. Before she left the court she was presented with jerseys from the NBA's Toronto Raptors and NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs — and with a child's version of the same for daughter Olympia.
In explaining that she was "evolving away" from tennis in the Vogue article, Williams said she wanted to focus on family life and new business ventures.
Her appearance highlighted a day that saw US teenager Coco Gauff — who says Williams was "the reason why I play tennis" — overcome 13 double-faults to battle past Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and into the third round.
Gauff beat Rybakina 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/3) while world number one Iga Swiatek -- who beat Gauff in the French Open final this year — sailed past Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-2 in 55 minutes.
Gauff lost out on four chances to close out a straight-sets victory as a quartet of match points came and went.
Kazakhstan's Rybakina, aided by Gauff's service struggles, had looked as if she might pull off another marathon victory after squeezing past Marie Bouzkova in the first round only for Gauff to finally prevail.
Djokovic, the world number one, had raised the alarm over an abdominal injury after his five-set battle with Taylor Fritz, but he showed few outward signs in his 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win.
The US Open is scheduled to start at Flushing Meadows on Aug.31. Irina Khromacheva of Russia will replace Halep in the main draw, according to the United States Tennis Association.
Serena Williams believes the withdrawal of some of the world’s top tennis players from this year’s US Open amid the COVID-19 pandemic will not take the shine off a potential record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title for her.
The Games, delayed a year due to China's measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, will be the country's biggest sporting event in over a decade in several metrics, with around 12,000 athletes from 45 nations competing in 40 sports.
India have become only the second team in men's cricket history to occupy the number one spot across all three formats after defeating Australia in the first ODI on Friday.
The prestigious championships for amateurs and professionals will take place under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah, and will be held at the Zayed Sports Complex.
The total prize money pool is $10 million for the tournament, the same which was given in the 2015 and 2019 editions of the competition. The runners-up of 2023 Men’s ODI World Cup will receive $2 million, while the losing semi-finalists will get $800,000 each.