After a crushing loss in the semifinals of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Serena Williams showed uncharacteristic emotions when exiting the court and left a news conference abruptly choking back tears on Thursday, Feb. 18.
After losing to No. 3 ranked Naomi Osaka — who again stopped the legend from obtaining her 24th Grand Slam title to tie for the all-time majors record in the sport — Williams held her hand over her heart when the Australian crowd gave her a standing ovation. Then at the news conference, she was asked about retirement.
“The Aussie crowd is so amazing, so it was nice to see,” Williams told reporters. Then when asked if the gesture meant she was saying farewell because she planned to retire, Williams said, “I don’t know … If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
Trying, but failing to maintain her composure, Williams ended the news conference when another reporter asked her about the unforced errors that cost her the match.
“I don’t know, I’m done,” Williams said with tears in her eyes and a tremble in her voice before exiting the conference. Williams also posted an emotional message to her fans on Instagram.
“Melbourne and my Australian fans- Today was not an ideal outcome or performance but it happens… I am so honored to be able to play in front of you all. 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 every single one of you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I adore you,” Williams wrote.
Though Williams is one title shy of Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams record, she still holds more titles than any player — men included — in the Open era. She also won the 2017 Australia Open while she was pregnant.
Tennis fans weighed in. Some said Williams is still the greatest of all time and would return victorious, while others contemplated Williams retiring and passing the torch, because Osaka is the future. Still others expressed how bittersweet it was to watch Williams lose and Osaka win.
“It was definitely a tough loss. I was watching Osaka thinking, ‘wow I remember when Serena played this fearless!’ Even watching Sabalenka I was just in awe of these girls playing their idols and being so fearless, just as Serena was when she played her Idol Monica,” YouTube user Adrain Evans wrote. “Tennis is crazy, the best form of flattery is to defeat the person who molded you! Its so hard to watch Serena these days, you can just see weight of history on her shoulders! We got to see nice glimpse of the of greatness this tournament though and I will never count her out!”
“Great win for Naomi Osaka. Seeing her rise in dominance is really a treat, but it’s hard not to feel a heavy sense of disappointment when Serena loses,” Jemele Hill wrote. “It was very bittersweet. Like, Yay Naomi and then Aww man, Serena lost,” @RRLLoyd2 added.
“Luis, it’s hard, we’re all sad. What hurts me the most is that she plays badly in the last four of GC tournaments. It is very frustrating. That she continues to sharpen herself, to work on her service, she will come. Love you Serena,” @katia789720 tweeted.
“Serena Williams has blessed the sport of tennis for decades. She is the best to ever do it and when she decides to leave EVERYONE will miss her. She deserves her flowers rn and the retirement discussion to be silent,” @marquez_jr22 tweeted.
“It’s a bummer but I don’t think we give Naomi Osaka enough credit. She’s really good and is the perfect person to carry the next generation of tennis stars,” @j_williams514 tweeted.
“Taking a moment to think about how lucky we are to be in a time to watch both Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. This is black history,” Taylor Rooks tweeted.
The 23-year-old Osaka — who would win her fourth Grand Slam title if she defeats Jennifer Brady in the final — is very humble and often acknowledges the impact Williams had on her growing up. She did so again after defeating her in the semifinals.
“It’s just always an honor to play her … I was a little kid watching her play, and just to be on the court playing against her, for me is a dream,” Osaka said.