NEW YORK — Serena Williams lost what is expected to be the last match of her transcendent tennis career Friday night, eliminated from the U.S. Open in the third round by Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1 before an electric crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Unwilling to go quietly, Williams staved off five match points to prolong the three-hours-plus proceedings, as some spectators stood to watch, camera phones at the ready. No one — save, of course, Tomljanovic — wanted this to end.
It did on Tomljanovic's sixth chance, when Williams netted a shot.
Williams turns 41 this month and recently told the world that she is ready to start “evolving” away from her playing days — she expressed distaste for the word “retirement” — and while she has remained purposely vague about whether this appearance at Flushing Meadows definitely would represent her final tournament, everyone assumes it will be.
If this was, indeed, the last hurrah, she took her fans on a thrill-a-minute throwback ride at the hard-court tournament that was the site of a half-dozen of her 23 Grand Slam championships. The first came in 1999 in New York, when Williams was just 17.
But she faltered against Tomljanovic, a 29-year-old Australian who is ranked 46th. Williams gave away leads in each set, including the last, in which she was up 1-0 before dropping the final six games.