Tennis legend Serena Williams said she wanted to be remembered as a fighter and was proud of the impact she had on tennis as she dropped the curtain on her historic career at the US Open.
A defiant Serena bid an emotional goodbye to Flushing Meadows with a third-round loss to Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday.
Her three matches at this year’s US Open, highlighted by a second-round win over world number two Anett Kontaveit, were a gift to her fans, the relentless never surrender attitude that made her tennis’s dominant player for more than two decades on display right until the very final point.
“Clearly I’m still capable,” Williams told reporters after her loss. “But it takes a lot more than that. I’m ready to be a mom, explore a different version of Serena. Technically in the world, I’m still super young, so I want to have a little bit of a life while I’m still walking. I have such a bright future ahead of me.”
“The fight, I’m such a fighter,” she said when asked how she wanted to be remembered following her third-round loss.
“I feel like I really brought something to tennis, a different look, the fist pumps, the just crazy intensity. Passion is a really good word.”
On the court, she thanked her family, friends and fans for an “incredible journey”.
“Honestly I am so grateful that I had this moment and that I’m Serena.”
“Her incredible career made its mark on tennis history. And yet her greatest contributions may be yet to come,” said Billie Jean King, the former world number one and co-creator of the Women’s Tennis Association, on Twitter.
“Thank you, Serena. Your journey continues.”
Williams’ third-round defeat by Tomljanovic – an extraordinary three hours befitting of the 40-year-old’s final bow – brings down the curtain on a 27-year professional career that yielded 23 major singles wins.
She has been an inspiration to many since she won her first Grand Slam singles title at the 1999 US Open, beating then-world number one Martina Hingis to become the second African-American woman, after Althea Gibson in 1958, to win a major singles tournament.
“It is because of you I believe in this dream. The impact you’ve had on me goes beyond any words that can be put together and for that I say thank you, thank you, thank you, GOAT!,” tweeted fellow American Coco Gauff.
The tributes flooded in from far beyond the tennis sphere, with former United States First Lady Michelle Obama saying: “How lucky were we to be able to watch a young girl from Compton grow up to become one of the greatest athletes of all time. I’m proud of you, my friend – and I can’t wait to see the lives you continue to transform with your talents.”
Golfer Tiger Woods, who was in Williams’ player box for her second-round win over Anett Kontaveit, said: “You’re literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams.”
The swimming great Michael Phelps praised Williams’ tenacity and drive.
“Her tennis accomplishments speak for themselves, but one of the things I admire about her is she simply doesn’t quit,” the 23-time Olympic champion said.
NBA great Magic Johnson said: “Serena has meant so much to sports, the game of tennis, the world, every little girl, and even more to every little black girl across the globe.
“Serena proves that you can dream bigger than where you come from. From South Central Los Angeles, to the greatest the world has ever seen… what a story!”
Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar tweeted: “Age is not what the body tells you, but what your mind tells the body. Teenagers can solve world’s biggest problems, adults can pick up something new and excel. Sport inspires society to push limits and achieve the impossible. Congratulations on an inspiring career, Serena Williams.”