It wasn’t that Serena Williams was saying goodbye. Or that she’d again fallen short of her all-consuming pursuit of a 24th grand slam title.
The tennis star’s teary exit from her press conference after a 6-3 6-4 defeat against Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semifinal on Thursday was sparked by how helpless she was to fight off the successor to her crown’s bludgeoning attacks.
That’s the theory being floated in the tennis world today after a momentous afternoon at Rod Laver Arena where the torch was passed in the women’s game.
Tennis great Mats Wilander isn’t buying talk of Williams’ retirement, but believes her days of winning slams are over.
“No (it’s not the end for Serena),” he said. “We see those tears because she was disappointed in the way she played. (…) For her this is a bigger loss, because she is moving better, she is playing better and she is still not really close to Osaka.”
The Athletic’s Christopher Kamrani also believed the contrast in Williams’ form in the lead-up to the semi-final and then the match itself triggered her emotional response.
“It’s just that Williams was playing so well in Melbourne, that she looked closer to her peak self than she had in years, that maybe falling short of a final was more difficult to deal with than she initially expected,” he wrote.
The LA Times Helene Elliott declared Williams’ “days of domination are over” while The Guardian’s Tumaini Carayol stated she had lost what made her the game’s greatest modern-day player.
Serena Williams’ forehand let her down. (Photo by Mackenzie Sweetnam/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
“Williams’s biggest problem isn’t her game, but how she has come to lose the killer instinct that defined her for so long,” Carayol wrote.
“She was the great closer. Her ability to excel in the toughest moments was so common that it was easy for people to forget how difficult just winning even one title is. Now we know.
“She has reached the part of her career where experience can be detrimental. She knows too much: she understands exactly what it means to win a grand slam title, that this will all soon be over and that every failure is a wasted opportunity. Winning is so difficult under these circumstances.”
Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim also appeared resigned to Williams finishing her career with 23 slams.
“For the last 20 years, you doubted Serena at your own peril. So you can’t say this was her last chance at No. 24. But this was her last best chance,” he wrote.
“You start to think: If not now, when? She’ll still be 39 at Wimbledon. But now it’s four-plus years since her last major. You can see Osaka is 16 years younger than she is.”
The Washington Post’s Jerry Brewer said Williams’ pursuit of a 24th slam appeared “more burdensome than exciting for her now”.
“At this point, Osaka might be an unscalable challenge for Williams,” Brewer wrote.
Osaka, who will play Jennifer Brady in Saturday’s final, was reluctant to rule a line through the player she grew up idolising.
“I want her to play forever,” Osaka said. “That’s the little kid in me.”
It’s Naomi Osaka’s time. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)Source:AFP
DJOKOVIC EMPATHISES WITH CHASE OF HISTORY
Novak Djokovic praised Serena Williams as one of the greatest athletes in history after he progressed to his ninth Australian Open final.
Djokovic said Williams, who has been stuck on 23 major titles since 2017, needed to see the “larger picture” of her achievements following her defeat.
The 39-year-old’s Grand Slam tally is second only to the 24 held by Australia’s Margaret Court.
Djokovic, whose 17 Grand Slam titles place him just behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s jointly held record of 20, said he could “emphasise” with the American.
“When you’re chasing big things that are related to the history of the sport, obviously it has a lot of weight, a lot of pressure,” he said.
“And regardless of the amount of years that you have played on the tour and the experience that you have, you still feel it on your shoulders.
“But I think when you see a larger picture for her and everything that who she is, what she stands for on and off the court … she’s one of the greatest ever … athletes, not just tennis player.
“She’s such an amazing champion that inspires both male and female athletes around the world.
“I’m just proud and honoured to be playing at the same time she does and to see her greatness, experience her greatness is a thrill.”
It came after Williams broke down in tears and cut short her post-match press conference after another failed bid to equal Margaret Court’s record Grand Slam haul, calling her defeat to Osaka “a big error day”.
Serena Williams gets emotional at a press conference after losing her women’s semi-final. (Photo by ROB PREZIOSO / TENNIS AUSTRALIA / AFP)Source:AFP
The veteran American’s quest to reach a ninth Australian Open final and match Court’s 24 major singles titles ended in a mauling by the Japanese third seed.
Williams, 39, broke early for a 2-0 lead before Osaka reeled off five straight games to leave her shell-shocked.
“The difference today was errors. I made so many errors,” she said.
“Honestly, it was opportunities where I could have won. I could have been up 5-0. It was a big error day for me.”
Pressed on what caused her to make so many mistakes, tears began to flow as she told reporters: “I don’t know. I’m done,” before walking out.
Serena might have already won 24 if she didn't focus so much on trying to get 24. She's already the greatest of all time but still puts so much pressure on herself — which is probably why she's the greatest of all time. I just hope she's being very tender with herself today.
In a clash of power games, it was Osaka who had the edge, hitting 20 winners to Williams’s 12, while also committing three fewer unforced errors on 21.
Williams said she had been hitting well all tournament and had no explanation for the loss other than “too many mistakes there, easy mistakes”.
Williams has lost four slam finals since her last win in 2017 and as she walked off court put her hand over her heart, almost as if saying farewell.
Asked about it afterwards, she suggested the gesture was more about acknowledging the crowd, who were allowed back into Rod Laver Arena after a five-day snap lockdown and gave the American a rousing send-off.
Was this goodbye? (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
“I don’t know. If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” she said But Williams later posted a heartfelt message to her Australian fans on Instagram.
“Today was not ideal outcome or performance but it happens … I am so honoured to be able to play in front of you all,” she said.
“Your support — your cheers, I only wish I could have done better for you today. I am forever in debt and grateful to each and everyone single one of you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I adore you.”
— with AFP
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