Williams tearfully addressed the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York following the loss.
Serena Williams dropped her third-round U.S. Open match to Ajla Tomljanović, likely bringing an end to her storied career.
Tomljanović needed a little over three hours Friday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York to defeat Williams 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-1 to advance to the round of 16. Williams, widely considered the greatest player to ever play the sport, roared back in the second set following a huge momentum swing. But Williams struggled early in the third set, and it seemed all but inevitable that her sensational comeback would fall short.
Following the defeat, Williams was asked what everyone in the world wants to know: is this the end?
"I mean, I'm literally playing my way into this and getting better," she said. "I don't think so but you never know. I don't know."
Tomljanović paid her respects to Williams following her impressive win.
"She is the greatest of all time. Period," she said. "She embodies that no dream is too big."
The loss comes after Williams' two singles wins and a doubles match loss with her sister, Venus Williams.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion kicked off the tournament by beating Danka Kovinić 6-3, 6-3 in the first match. Williams stepped out in style for her final U.S. Open debut, arriving at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York in a black, embellished bodice and tutu skirt by Nike, with the brand noting the sparkles were "inspired by the night sky above center court."
The outfit also originally contained six layers to represent her six U.S. Open singles titles, but as Serena told Gayle King in a post-match interview, she "took four out because it was too heavy."
Serena also rocked a pair of shoes from Nike and her brand Serena Williams Jewelry that featured 1.5-carat solid gold deubrés that spelled out "mama" and "queen," reminding spectators that there's more to the tennis star's legacy than her numerous trophies.
It was a matching moment for Williams and her daughter, Olympia, with the 5-year-old daughter cheering from the stands, twinning with her mom in a matching outfit and a head full of familiar white beads. Fans will recall that Williams had the same braided style when she first won the U.S. Open in 1999.
"It was either her wear beads or me," Serena told reporters during a post-match interview. "I wanted to do it, but I just didn't have the time. She asks to wear beads a lot. It actually wasn't my idea, but I was so happy when she had them on. It's perfect on her."
The match featured quite the star-studded crowd, including Anna Wintour, Bill Clinton, Queen Latifah, Anthony Anderson, Hugh Jackman, Mike Tyson, Bella Hadid and more, all on hand to see Williams at the first match of her farewell tour. Olympia as well as Williams' husband, Alexis Ohanian, her sister, Isha Price, and her mother, Oracene Price, were also in attendance.
In August, Williams announced her intention to retire from the sport, and while she didn't officially use that word, she did share that she is "evolving away from tennis."
"I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me," Williams shared in a first-person account published in Vogue's September 2022 issue. "A few years ago, I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family."
Williams welcomed her first child with her husband in 2017. The Grand Slam winner detailed how the youngster prays for a baby sister and often says she wants to be a big sister -- something Williams and Ohanian have been planning for. "In the last year, Alexis and I have been trying to have another child, and we recently got some information from my doctor that put my mind at ease and made me feel that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family," she said. "I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out."
And after all she's been through, it's looking like Williams is taking both feet off the court.
"The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams. I had my chances after coming back from giving birth. I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a grand slam final," she candidly recalled. "I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression. But I didn’t get there. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. I didn’t show up the way I should have or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually, it’s extraordinary. But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter."
For more on Williams and her legacy, check out the video below.