STORY: Serena Williams bid an emotional farewell to the U.S. Open on Friday night, after what may have been the last singles match of her glittering career.
Williams did her signature victory twirl to the raucous, packed stadium in New York, despite losing the third-round match to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1.
The three-plus-hour battle was hard fought on both sides, with the ever-defiant Williams saving five match points in the last game before netting the final shot.
The crowd were on their feet, applauding the 23-time Grand Slam champion, who had recently announced her plans to “evolve away from tennis” - though never confirming when.
She choked back tears during the post-match on-court interview, a moment usually reserved for the winner, saying, “These are happy tears, I guess. I dunno.”
Williams thanked her family and fans – especially her parents and older sister Venus for their support over the years.
The 40-year-old player, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Compton, California, has inspired a generation of young black girls to dream big and keep fighting.
She clinched her first major when she was 17 years old, at the 1999 U.S. Open.
That made her the first black American since Arthur Ashe in 1975 to win a singles major, and the first black American woman since Althea Gibson in 1958.
Williams told reporters after her Friday match that she considered the 2015 French Open a career highlight.
That’s when she fought through a serious flu to complete her second so-called "Serena Slam”, winning four Grand Slam titles in a row.
She’s also one of the few players, male or female, who have won a Career Grand Slam – winning all four majors at some point – in both singles and doubles.
And the only player so far to have achieved a Career Golden Slam – that is, to win Olympic Gold as well – in both categories.
Her last Grand Slam title was the 2017 Australian Open, which brought her ranking back to world number one and made her, at 35, the oldest woman to win a major.
She later revealed she was at the time also pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia, who just turned five on Thursday (September 1).
If she retires now, Williams will take the curtain call as the proud owner of the second-most Grand Slam singles titles in history, behind the 24 of Australia's Margaret Court.
Asked after the exhilarating match on Friday night whether the renowned fighter might be tempted to reconsider her retirement, Williams said, “I don’t think so, but you never know.”