Serena Williams loses to Belinda Bencic in first match of farewell tour
TORONTO (REUTERS) - The first stop on Serena Williams' farewell tour came to a quick end as she fell 6-2, 6-4 to Belinda Bencic in second-round action at the Canadian Open on Wednesday (Aug 10) a day after announcing her forthcoming retirement from tennis.
Williams arrived on the court to a standing ovation and had the full support of the capacity crowd throughout the 77-minute match but was unable to conjure up the old magic that helped her lift three titles in Canada.
"It's been a pretty interesting 24 hours ... I'm terrible at goodbyes. But, goodbye Toronto," an emotional Williams told the crowd.
"I always had amazing times here both on and off the court.
"I'll be coming back just as a visitor to the city but otherwise it's been remarkable."
After the match, Williams was presented with team jerseys of Toronto's National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams for her and her daughter, Olympia, who was in attendance, as well as a bouquet of flowers that she carried off the court while wiping back tears.
Prior to the match, a tribute video was played featuring comments from tennis pioneer Billie Jean King, current players like Coco Gauff and Emma Raducanu as well as ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky and highlights of Williams' Canadian triumphs.
The highly-anticipated match was played a day after the 23-time Grand Slam champion revealed in a Vogue article that she was "evolving away from tennis" and planned to retire from the sport she has dominated for over two decades.
Olympic champion Bencic saved the lone break point she faced in the opening set and broke Williams twice to jump ahead 5-2 but the Swiss 12th seed then needed five set points to clinch the opening frame.
In the second set, Bencic got the one break she needed to go ahead 4-3 when Williams struck a double fault and the Swiss never looked back as she sealed the match on her serve when Williams sent a return long.
"It was a lot of emotions obviously," Williams said about how it felt to take the court. "I love playing here, I've always loved playing here. I wish I could've played better but Belinda played so well today."
Up next for Bencic will be Spanish eighth seed Garbine Muguruza, who was a 6-4, 6-4 winner over Estonia's Kaia Kanepi.
Among the others reaching the last 16 of the tune-up event for the Aug 29-Sept 11 US Open were world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, defending champion Camila Giorgi, Gauff, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Jessica Pegula and Aryna Sabalenka.
In New York, ticket retailer StubHub told Reuters that demand for tickets to witness Williams in action at the US Open spiked in the 24 hours following her announcement that she would retire after the hard-court Grand Slam.
"We typically see demand spike on StubHub when a player announces their retirement, and this is especially the case when it's Serena Williams, arguably one of the greatest players to set foot on the tennis court," spokesman Adam Budelli said.
"Over the last 24 hours, we've seen eight times more sales on StubHub for the US Open than the daily average, but the great news for fans is that the average price paid for a ticket has stayed steady, signalling that there is plenty of inventory for people who want to watch this historic moment in sports in person."
Six of Williams' 23 Grand Slam titles have come at the US Open and she reached the final at Flushing Meadows as recently as 2019.
Serena, 40, and sister Venus took the tennis world by storm when they emerged from the courts of crime-ridden Compton, California as teenagers and went on to dominate and change the face of the predominantly white sport.
Williams won her last Grand Slam in 2017 at the Australian Open while pregnant with her daughter, Olympia.
"I have never liked the word retirement," Williams, who has played only two matches this year, wrote in the Vogue article.
"Maybe the best word to describe what I'm up to is evolution. I'm here to tell you that I'm evolving... toward other things that are important to me."