Serena Williams leaves women’s tennis in good hands after the latest score in Toronto

While that notion seems downright foolish in hindsight, Serena Williams’ return at the start of the 2022 National Bank Open didn’t seem to be one of the standout storylines.

Every time the greatest player of all time – heck, maybe the greatest athlete of all time – takes to the pitch, there’s certainly a basic level of intrigue, but with a cohort of younger, rising stars, Canadian fan favorites and a number of former numbers 1 in the world in the mix, we’d all be lying if we thought Williams would resurface as the tournament’s defining story.

Neither of us could have predicted what happened next. Everything changed when Williams announced her impending retirement in a first-person essay Tuesday morning Fashionwho explains that she wants to move on to the next chapter of her life.

“I’ve never liked the word retirement,” Williams wrote. “It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve taken this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use this word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Perhaps the best word to describe what I intend to do is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis and into other things that are important to me.”

Serena Williams played her last match on Canadian soil.  (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Serena Williams played her last match on Canadian soil. (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Williams remained available for media on Monday afternoon after a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz. The GOAT was gracious with her time and seemed at peace, although neither of us had any inkling that her essay would be dropped the next morning.

I asked Williams if she agreed with the premise that the 2022 National Bank Open was a clash between a generation of previously established stars and former world No. 1s like herself and a new cohort that also included Iga Swiatek, Paula Badosa and Maria Sakkari include others in mind.

“It definitely is. I feel like there are a lot of past winners and just champions in general on the tour. And then there’s going to be some really exciting young new champions that are going to take over and that’s exciting,” Williams said.

The second part of the question revolved around her memories of Toronto, and she gracefully surrendered.

“I just love it here, it’s no secret I had a fabulous time on court and probably an even better time off court in Toronto. It’s a great city and I love being here. I visit here with friends all the time, good memories.”

As might be expected, the press corps doubled for Wednesday’s Williams prime-time match against Belinda Bencic. Everyone was here for Serena, everyone needs a story about Serena, she is it THE history and everyone knows it.

Nobody missed that. Swiatek sent off Ajla Tomljanovic in a 64-minute masterclass during the day’s session, but nonetheless, the excitement in the morning was solely focused on the match between Williams and Bencic. Ticket sales soared and Williams brought the pitch to a rapturous standing ovation, preceded by a video tribute featuring Billie Jean King, a montage of press questions to current players about Williams throughout the week and, somewhat inexplicably, Wayne Gretzky.

And finally the match began. Williams held at love, but Bencic responded quickly in the following game before convincingly breaking Williams’ serve to take a 2-1 lead. Bencic’s serve and two-handed backhand are among the most impressive shots of the entire tournament to date, as evidenced by a rocket painting the right service box for an ace to go 30-0 and easily win the game. uh-oh

Williams shows some struggles and is down 30-40 in her next service game, cheered on by a loud “C’MON SERENA” chant, and wins her next three points. It’s 3-2 to Bencic and the house rocks, spurred on by the idea of ​​an unlikely comeback.

Bencic is undeterred from playing in a crowd that is openly urging her to lose. During the seventh game of the first set, she hits a shot I’ve never seen before and places her racquet in front of her face, the velocity of Williams’ previous shot ricocheting off Bencic’s racquet and going over the net for the oddest winner of the previous tournament. A few points later, Bencic is leading 5:2.

While the vibe is relatively casual, with fans dancing to “Ice Ice Baby” and “Macarena” during breaks in play, you can tell from the crowd’s muted volume that everyone knows Williams isn’t flipping this one.

The second set plays out similarly to the first and although the audience relentlessly supports Williams, that set is over. Bencic plays without light and although Williams takes an early 2-1 lead, the 25-year-old Swiss smashes another two-handed backhand to win game four and there’s no going back from that point.

Bencic serves for the match and after Williams sends the final point, the audience gives her her second standing ovation of the night. Williams receives a gift from the tournament director and then addresses the crowd.

“I’ve always loved playing here,” Williams said. “I wish I could have played better but Belinda played so well today. But yes, it was quite an interesting 24 hours.

“I love you all. I’m terrible at goodbyes…but goodbye.”

To Bencic’s credit, she knows this moment isn’t about her despite playing a fantastic match. During Bencic’s post-game availability, almost all questions revolved around Williams, and the 2015 National Bank Open winner was only too happy to share her thoughts on the biggest retirement of all time.

“She has this aura that’s just, you know, whether you want it or not, you’re intimidated, you’re scared. If it just stands there when you return it, you get a little scared. Of course it’s Serena,” Bencic told reporters.

“And I mean, she kind of makes me feel like I’m star-struck every time I see her. So it’s difficult to play them. It’s difficult to put that aside and just focus on the game. Because I feel like I just don’t know how to play then because I feel a little paralyzed just watching her. But of course the crowd tonight was amazing. Just being part of the whole is something very special for me and for her too.”

Williams will play her final tournament in a few weeks at the US Open, a fitting farewell to the defining player of her generation. If this week was any indication, Williams is leaving women’s tennis in good hands, with two generations clearly inspired by her influence on and off the court.

It’s been a turbulent week and with four days remaining in the tournament, the 2022 National Bank Open will be dominated by the greatest of all time, Serena Williams.

More from Yahoo Sports

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.