Serena Williams Loses To Ajla Tomljanovic In Her Final Match at the US Open

Serena Williams and Ajla Tomljanovic

Ajla Tomljanovic has defeated 23-time slam champion Serena Williams 5-7 7-6(4) 6-1 after three hours and seven minutes at the US Open. The Australian’s incredible mental and physical resilience wore down Williams, who had leads in both sets. Tomljanovic, who came into the match with a reputation for getting nervous in big moments bucked that narrative entirely, remaining cool throughout.

Coming into the match, Serena Williams was showing the best level by far in the past 18 months, likely the best since 2021 Australian Open. The 23-time slam champion stepped out on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Danka Kovinic surrounded by question marks and perhaps just hopes for a dignified exit after struggling in the lead-ups. Williams exorcised all those demons with a confident victory over the Montenegrin. Then, coming up against a World No. 2 who has not really played her best since February in Anett Kontaveit, the American could smell the blood in the water. A three-set win but Williams dominated the deciding set, never truly looking like she would lose. Now, surrounded by expectations and whispers of “could she go all the way, one last time?” Serena Williams entered the third round against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.

A two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist, Tomljanovic was hoping to replicate her success on grass at the US Open, making the third round in New York for the second time in her career. The Australian looked strong in her opener, taking out Karolina Muchova in straight sets but struggling in the second round. Tomljanovic was down 3-5 in the deciding set to Evgeniya Rodina, for whom this was the first tournament since June 2019. The 29-year-old dug deep and turned the match around to win 7-5 in the third and set up the biggest match of her lifetime.

Set 1

Williams started the match tentative on serve, getting broken and not getting a single first serve in while Tomljanovic started aggressively on the return, getting a forehand return winner down the line to set up 15-30. Tomljanovic took the early lead in the match. Williams broke back to love, not letting the early setback affect her, moving very well and dominating the rallies despite Tomljanovic swinging freely. The killer instinct came in and so did the serve, the 40-year-old making it eight straight points as she held to love going into the first sit-down changeover.

Tomljanovic held her nerve well after the break, getting two unreturned serves and winning two extended baseline rallies, not getting tight and looking strong in rallies against Williams, whose four errors gave the Australian a hold to love. Williams had a mixed hold on serve, firing her first ace as well as her first double fault but continued her streak of 100% points won after the first serve, going up 3-2.

Two longer rallies to begin the sixth game, Williams ending the first one with a forehand down the line winner from a defensive position and set up the second point very well too but mishit her swing volley approach forehand. Two more close outs gave Tomljanovic the game though Williams was establishing herself as the more dominant player in the rallies. The Australian missed the first game point but took the second one, tying the set up at 3-3. The first huge “come on” from Williams came at 15-15 in this game as she took a lead in the game from a Tomljanovic error. A passing shot sailed long down the line from the 29-year-old, giving Williams game points which she took advantage of with a backhand winner.

After a strong return forced an error on the first point, a well-constructed aggressive rally on the second point, and a stunning approach forehand volley leading to an overhead winner on the third point, Williams was 0-40 up on Tomljanovic’s serve. The Australian sealed her fate with a long backhand error and the crowd erupted as the 40-year-old was set to serve for the set, winning eight points in a row again. After losing the first point of the game, Williams got a bit of luck with the net cord helping her out as her lunging backhand volley clipped the tape and came over. Tomljanovic forced an error to set up 15-30 and Williams came up with her second ace of the match. The net cord went against the American this time, her backhand approach shot coming back off the tape to set up a break point for Tomljanovic. Williams sent a forehand long and Tomljanovic went back on serve, keeping the first set going.

Tomljanovic opened the tenth game with a double fault. Williams hit an error but followed it up with a backhand winner to set up 15-30 to which Tomljanovic responded with a backhand winner of her own. In the key point at 30-30, Williams lost a 17-shot rally as she missed a backhand wide trying to go for a winner. Tomljanovic converted the game point with an unreturned serve and the set was tied up at 5-5. After going 15-0 up a missed opportunity came up for Williams after a good serve out wide, Tomljanovic read the swinging volley well and passed the 40-year-old. Williams then hit a double fault and after an aggressive return and well-constructed point, Tomljanovic set up two break points at 15-40. The Australian snatched at a forehand looking for a winner on the first but after a longer rally on the second, Tomljanovic’s backhand down the line earned her the break, now serving for the set at 6-5.

After two errors from Williams, Tomljanovic got a 30-0 lead which she turned into three set points after an unreturned serve. The American saved the first with a dominant baseline rally from the forehand wing while Tomljanovic’s forehand went long on the second set point as she tried to pull the trigger on a winner. She converted the third with a forehand cross-court winner, pulling off four consecutive games to turn the set around and taking it 7-5 after 50 minutes.

Tomljanovic held her nerve and stuck to her game plan throughout the set, picking her moments for pulling the trigger on a winner and keeping Williams pinned back in extended rallies. The 40-year-old failed to take her chances, getting two points away from winning the set on her serve and the errors started piling up as the set wore on and her footwork became less precise. It was the first time she dropped the first set on her run here and was looking to pull off her first comeback from a set down since the 2020 US Open quarterfinal against Tsvetana Pironkova.

Set 2

Williams entered the second set with a cool head, setting up 40-0 but after an error, a double fault, and a passing shot from Tomljanovic, we got our first deuce game of the match. A second major “come on” scream came after an unreturned serve set Williams up with the advantage but could not convert after a stunning passing shot from the Australian forced a volley error from the 40-year-old. A forehand winner and another “come on” gave Williams the advantage again and an unreturned serve gave her the hold.

Tomljanovic started with her first ace of the match but a couple of errors put her under pressure at 30-30. Williams came up with an amazing return and followed it up with a forehand winner to set up a break point. Another strong return and a great short volley winner gave Williams the break. After an emotional opening game, Williams gave a much quieter, focused performance in the third game, getting a 30-0 lead. A backhand right on the baseline forced an error out of the American but an ace set up two game point and another one sealed the game, a vintage Serena Williams service game to go up 3-0.

Tomljanovic opened the fourth game with a double fault but came up with a good forehand down-the-line winner to tie the game up. An unreturned serve gave the Australian the lead but a second double fault of the game made it 30-30. Williams took advantage of the opportunity and after a brilliantly-placed return and a powerful approach forehand winner, set up a break point. The 40-year-old took it, thumping a backhand approach shot cross court to take the double break, with Billie Jean King getting her phone out to commemorate the moment. Williams read Tomljanovic’s approach shot beautifully to force an error out of the Australian and take the first point. Tomljanovic hit a backhand return winner cross-court to go 30-30 and after a late let call interrupted the rally, Williams hit an ace to set up a game point. A brilliant deep return from Tomljanovic got the game to deuce and a double fault gifted the 29-year-old a break point. An unreturned serve brought it back to deuce but an error after a long rally set up a second break point for Tomljanovic. Williams hit a volley long and Tomljanovic got back in the second set.

After covering her head with a towel during the changeover, attempting to refocus, Tomljanovic came up with a solid hold to make it 2-4. Williams began the next game with a backhand winner but Tomljanovic attacked the second serve well and got a winner to make it 15-15. A couple of errors in defensive positions from Tomljanovic set up game points for Williams. The American lost the first round after getting caught out in the middle of the court and losing her advantageous position in the rally and missing a forehand wide after trying to pull the trigger on a winner. The game went to deuce. A serve and a forehand winner setting up the advantage led to the biggest scream of the match so far from Williams. The American converted despite a very strong return from Tomljanovic, turning defense to offense with some howitzers from the forehand side before hitting the winner and taking a 5-2 lead.

After a forced error and a double fault, Tomljanovic found herself down 0-30 and Williams once again two points from taking the set. The Australian came up with the goods after an intense baseline rally and a drop shot, forcing Williams into an error at the net. The American hit a forehand return into the net set up 30-30 but Williams got her set point after a well-constructed and powerful rally that ended with an overhead smash winner and a scream. A backhand error in a long rally from Williams sent the game to deuce. Another set point was set up by the American after a Tomljanovic error following a solid baseline rally but a near miss on the return tied the game up again. Williams did slow down the pace of the game a couple of times in between the points, one of which helped her set up the third set point with an approach forehand winner, though another error in a long rally from Williams brought it back to deuce. Tomljanovic went risky with the second serve but forced an error out of Williams to set up a game point which she could not take as she sent a forehand long. Tomljanovic kept Williams pinned back with long shots down the middle until she forced an error but the 40-year-old responded with a return winner to send the game to a fifth deuce. An error from Williams gave Tomljanovic the game point but Williams kept fighting back, forcing an error from the Australian. Another big second serve gave Tomljanovic another game point but Williams brought it back once again with an overhead smash. A double fault gave Williams the fourth set point and Tomljanovic gave a quick complaint about the crowd slowing her down before saving it with a deep forehand down the line that forced an error. Williams fired a forehand error as she tried to force a passing shot after playing some strong defense but Tomljanovic made an error of her own, sending the game to the ninth deuce as the game neared the 15-minute mark. Two errors from Williams sealed the game as a Tomljanovic hold and the 40-year-old would serve for the match.

Tomljanovic began the ninth game with a passing shot winner and would set up two break points after a long rally error from Williams. A double fault gave away the second break, Tomljanovic clawing the set break to 4-5. Williams got the first point of the tenth game but nullified her advantage with a return error after an 83 mph serve. A Tomljanovic error would set up 15-30 for the 40-year-old. Williams went side-to-side on the defense but ultimately was forced into an error for 30-30. She pushed too hard for it on Tomljanovic’s second serve and the Australian had a game point, converting after a net cord sends Williams’ forehand wide. Williams served at 5-5 and in an emotional game forced an error from Tomljanovic and came up with a great touch on the volley to go up 30-0. A forehand sailed long in the next point from Williams but the American pulled out her eighth ace of the match to set up two game points. A return error on the second serve from Tomljanovic restored the lead for Williams.

After a 21-shot rally to open the game, Tomljanovic won the first point after a Williams backhand error but the Australian followed it up with a double fault. Williams won the next lengthy rally with a brilliant touch on the half volley that got the crowd on its feet. Tomljanovic set up the next point very well and pulled out a backhand down-the-line winner, following it up with a serve plus one forehand winner for a game point. An error from Williams sent the second set into a tiebreak.

Williams took the first point with an emphatic backhand winner. A great serve down the T from Tomljanovic went unreturned but the Australian gave away a minibreak after a backhand error. After a serve and a smash, Williams went 3-1 up before consolidating her lead with an amazing forehand winner to go up 4-1, keeping the rallies short. The net cord kept Williams’ return on her side and the two changed sides at 4-2. Tomljanovic’s unreturned serve put the pressure back on the American. Tomljanovic hit two shots on the baseline, forcing an error from Williams and tying it up at 4-4. Williams followed up with a 117 mph ace, her hardest serve of the match to reclaim the lead. The 40-year-old turned defense into attack in a stunning way on the next point, getting her fifth set point. Tomljanovic’s forehand after the return went long and Serena Williams claimed the second 7-4 in the tiebreak. After two hours and 16 minutes, this instant classic was going to a deciding set.

Williams had opportunities to close out the set much sooner and was looking more and more exhausted after longer rallies with Tomljanovic, who forced her into them by keeping her shots long and down the middle but the six-time US Open champion overcame all that. The keys for her were definitely her first serve percentage, up to 63% after 47% in the first set as well as 14 more winners.

Set 3

Tomljanovic began the decider on serve solidly, going up 30-15 but after a double fault and an unforced error, Williams had a break point. Tomljanovic saved it with an unreturned serve a serve plus one forehand winner gave her the advantage but an aggressive return and overhead winner from Williams brought the game back to deuce. An error from Tomljanovic gave the American a second break and she took it as the Australian fired a forehand long.

A longer rally once again forced an error from Williams to start the second game but an error from Tomljanovic and her tenth ace got the former No. 1 back in front. An unreturned serve set up two game points but after two errors from Williams, the game went to deuce. An aggressive return on the second serve pinned the American back and forced an error, giving Tomljanovic a chance for the break back, which she would take as Williams hit a backhand into the net. After an impressive return from Williams, Tomljanovic did well to keep her shots deep and forced an error after a shot landed on the line. A strong unreturned second serve gave her a 30-0 lead, with another big serve giving her game points at 40-15, sealing the game with a backhand winner.

An opportunity was missed for Williams to go 30-0 up as she selected to hit a drop shot that barely reached the net from a solid position but Tomljanovic would answer with a poor drop shot of her own. The Australian came up with a strong backhand down-the-line passing winner to put Williams under pressure at 30-30. Williams double-faulted, gifting Tomljanovic a break point but hit a kick-serve ace to save it. Tomljanovic forced an error from Williams after a good return, setting up a second break point. An unreturned serve brought the game back to deuce, being the 200th point played with each player winning 100 points apiece, illustrating just how even this match has been. Another double fault and another break point, Tomljanovic unable to convert despite some brilliant defense as Williams put away the swing forehand. A missed opportunity for the American, hitting an unforced error on serve plus one off the backhand and missing the swing volley to give away the break to Tomljanovic, now holding a 3-1 lead.

Tomljanovic hit her second ace of the match to start the fifth game, forcing an error from Williams in the second point to give herself a 30-0 lead. An error from a strong position from Williams gave Tomljanovic a 40-0 lead but a double fault and a forced error brought it back to 40-30. Williams’ approach backhand sailed long and Tomljanovic led 4-1. Williams got a 30-0 lead after two winners at the net. Tomljanovic came up with two winners of her own to bring it back to 30-30, a third straight winner earning her a break point. A long slice approach forehand gave Tomljanovic a 5-1 lead, serving for the match.

The crowd gave a standing ovation to Williams as Tomljanovic prepared to serve for the match. An unreturned serve started the game for the 29-year-old but Williams would go down swinging as she unleashed a forehand return winner for 15-15. Williams won the next longer baseline rally but Tomljanovic got the serve plus one forehand winner to go 30-30. Williams hit a forehand error and Tomljanovic had a match point, prompting another standing ovation from the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd. Tomljanovic rolled the serve in and Williams attacked it, bringing the game to deuce after a backhand swing volley winner. Williams’ second serve return went wide, giving Tomljanovic a second match point which Williams saved again with some strong defense and a forced error on the side of the Australian. Tomljanovic’s forehand winner set her up for a third match point but Williams responded with a return winner, refusing to let the match end. A deep shot down the middle forced an error from Williams, a fourth match point for Tomljanovic, saved once again with an approach shot forcing an error. Williams got a break point at last as the Australian went long on a forehand approach but she was unable to take the opportunity as she slipped and sent a forehand long. Williams went wide with an attempted return winner, Tomljanovic getting a fifth match point at the three-hour mark but the 23-time slam champion came up with yet another return winner. A break point came for Williams after Tomljanovic thought her return to have gone long but back to deuce we went after a forehand error from the American. Williams got a break point again, an incredible get on a drop shot and a backhand winner stifling the attempted lob. A brilliantly-constructed point from Tomljanovic took us to the eighth deuce of the game though. Tomljanovic hit her third ace to set up the sixth match point as this game crossed the 14-minute mark and Williams’ approach shot only hit the net.

Ajla Tomljanovic won 7-5 6-7 6-1 after three hours and seven minutes. She will now face Liudmila Samsonova of Russia in the Round of 16.

Serena Williams thanked her father and mother before bursting into tears” “It all started with my parents and they deserve everything. I am really grateful to them.”

“I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you, Venus. She is the only reason Serena Williams existed,” Williams said in an emotional farewell speech.

“I don’t think so but you never know,” Williams said when asked if she would reconsider her retirement.

“I’m feeling really sorry because I love Serena just as much as you guys do. What she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis is incredible. I never thought I’d have the chance to play her in her last match when I remember her watching her as a kid in all those finals, so this is a surreal moment for me,” Tomljanovic said in the on-court interview.

“I just thought she would beat me, you know, so the pressure wasn’t on me. She’s Serena. Even until the last point, I knew that she is in a really good position to win even when she’s down 5-1. I don’t know how many match points I needed to finish it off but that’s just who she is and she’s the greatest of all time. Period.”

“I think she embodies that no dream is too big. No matter where you come from, the circumstances, you can do anything if you believe in yourself, you love what you do and you have an incredible support system and family around you. I travel with my family as well and she’s always been someone I looked up to also from that aspect. I will definitely miss seeing her on the courts, it will not be the same,” Tomljanovic said of Serena Williams and her impact.

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