NEW YORK: Serena Williams, the winner of a mind-boggling 23 singles major titles, brought the curtains down on an illustrious career after she lost to Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-1 in a third-round match in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, at the US Open on Saturday (IST).
Williams, 73-time winner on the WTA Tour who also won a record-equalling six US Open titles, was given a standing ovation as she exited the court one last time with some of the most magical numbers of all time.
Several top players including American Coco Gauff and Japan's Naomi Osaka, among other, paid tributes to the 40-year-old champion who is only fifth on the all-time list of winners on the WTA Tour.
In terms of the WTA Tour titles, Martina Navratilova leads the all-time list with 167, followed by Chris Evert (157), Steffi Graf (107), Margaret Court (92) and Williams, with 73.
Beyond the cold numbers, though, Serena is credited with transforming the women's game.
"I don't think I've even taken a moment to realise any impact," Serena was quoted as saying by wtatennis.com in response to tributes from Gauff, Osaka and several others. "I understand it, but I don't really meditate or think about it. I'll have plenty of time soon to do all that."
"I never thought I would have that impact, ever. I was just a girl trying to play tennis in a time where I could develop this impact and be a voice. It was just so authentic because I do what I do, and I just do it authentically me."
In a professional career spanning 27 years, Serena produced eight different reigns at No.1 -- from 2002-17 -- for a total of 319 weeks, third all time. She is the most recent player to simultaneously hold all four Grand Slam crowns -- twice, from 2002-03 and 2014-15.
She is 367-56 in Grand Slams and 108-15 at the US Open and won more than USD94 million in prize money, more than any woman in tennis history.
Serena also won four Olympic gold medals, including three in doubles.
"(There's) no happiness in this topic for me," Serena had written in a first-person essay for Vogue magazine. "The best word to describe what I'm up to is evolution. I'm here to tell you that I'm evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me."
The legendary Chris Evert, an 18-time Grand Slam singles champion herself, had given a fitting tribute to Williams' extraordinary career when she had withdrawn from 2021 Wimbledon.
"For me, her legacy is already sealed. Even though she did not catch Margaret Court's (all-time) record (of 24 majors), it doesn't matter. She is always the greatest of all."
From the time Serena won her first major, the US Open, in September 1999, to the last, the Australian Open in January 2017, she won 23 major titles and elder sister Venus seven. The rest of the tennis players -- 18 in all -- managed to win a total of 40.
Together the sisters won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and never lost a final. Besides, they each won three Olympic gold medals and a bronze.
The siblings met 31 times, with Serena holding a 19-12 advantage. Remarkably, nine of those were Grand Slam finals, including a stretch of four of five from the 2001 US Open to the 2002 US Open, according to wtatennis.com.
Serena was 35 years and 124 days old when she won that 2017 Australian Open, becoming the oldest women's winner in a major. She then reached four Grand Slam finals after that. At Wimbledon in 2019, Serena, at 37 and 291 days, was the oldest female major finalist, surpassing Navratilova's record.
She was nearly 38 years old when she lost the US Open final later that year to Bianca Andreescu. Roger Federer, whose amazing career tracks similarly to Williams', reached only one major final after the age of 36, losing the 2019 Wimbledon final to Serbia's Novak Djokovic.
Against Tomljanovic, Williams was bidding to become the oldest women to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam in the Open Era.
On Saturday (IST) when the final forehand found the net, Serena shook hands with Tomljanovic and waved to the crowd.
"Thank you, daddy, I know you're watching," Williams said. "Thanks mom. I wouldn't be Serena if it wasn't for Venus. She's the only reason Serena Williams ever existed. It's been a fun ride."