Nobody inside the stadium wanted it to end. And perhaps nobody there wanted to believe Serena Williams’ professional tennis career in Canada had just ended.
A capacity crowd of 9,500 fans inside Sobeys Stadium in Toronto cheered wildly on Wednesday night as Williams wiped tears away from her eyes — just 24 hours after Williams announced her impending retirement, the emotion of the moment grabbed hold of the 40-year-old.
In a match that lasted one hour and 17 minutes, Swiss player Belinda Bencic defeated one of the best-ever to play the game in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.
“There are a lot of emotions. I always love playing here in Canada. I wish I could have been better but Belinda played so well today. It’s been a pretty interesting 24 hours,” Williams said.
In a lengthy on-court, post-match interview, Williams tried to find words to meet the moment — that 27 years after her pro tennis debut at a Tier 3 tournament in Quebec City, this would be the way her pro tennis career in Canada would end.
“It’s just been so overwhelming,” Williams said, fighting back tears.
“I’m terrible with goodbyes. But goodbye Toronto.”
She continued, being interrupted by fans saying they loved her.
“I love you all,” Williams yelled back.
“There’s been some really good times here and I’ll be coming back as a visitor to this city. It’s been remarkable. I’ve had some amazing matches out here. And cool moments.”
And then after being presented with flowers and paintings and Toronto Maple Leaf and Raptors jerseys, the 23-time Slam singles winner made her final walk off the court in Canada.
The crowd roared. They waved. Many cried. Williams cried, wiping her face with a towel as she waved to the crowd.
“Thank you for all of the support,” Williams said.
It couldn’t have been a more different scene on Wednesday evening than what Williams faced when she was just 14 years playing her first pro match in Canada.
Nobody knew who she was. And certainly nobody had any idea what she was about to become — and that she would dominate for the next two decades.
When she played that qualifying match in Quebec City 27 years ago she was defeated in straight sets in less than an hour. There were no fans. No player introductions. It was unmemorable.
And while this was also a straight-set loss on this night, this match, the scenes that played out inside the stadium in Toronto were unforgettable.