Serena Williams bade a tearful farewell to the Australian Open amid questions about whether she may have played at the tournament for the last time.
Williams gave the crowd inside the Rod Laver Arena a long wave goodbye with her hand on her heart following her 6-3 6-4 semi-final defeat by Naomi Osaka.
The gesture prompted speculation about whether the 39-year-old would ever be back competing at Melbourne Park, where she has won the title seven times.
In her post-match press conference, Williams, who had never previously lost a semi-final in Melbourne, responded: “I don’t know. If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone. So…”
Williams then became tearful during the next question, a relatively mundane enquiry about her unforced errors during the match, and said: “I don’t know. I’m done,” before leaving the room.
Williams once again came up short in her 11th attempt to move level with Margaret Court’s record haul of 24 grand slam singles titles, and it is now a year-and-a-half since she made a final.
Speaking on Eurosport, her old rival Justine Henin said: “I think she was better 10 years ago. Also the impact she had on the other players, we were really scared to play Serena. She was impressive, she was winning a lot.
“The determination – I don’t say she doesn’t have the same motivation but her life also has changed. Physically she was also probably at a better level.
“She’s 39, it’s amazing what she’s able to do, physically, mentally, but the game also has changed, it’s getting faster and faster and all the players know they can beat Serena, she’s going to be more pushed, and this is what’s the hardest for her.”
Japanese third seed Osaka, the champion in 2019, overcame a nervous start in front of a limited crowd, let back in after Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown was lifted.
From 2-0 down she won eight out of the next nine games before ultimately wrapping up victory in an hour and 15 minutes.
Osaka said on court: “I was really nervous and scared in the beginning but I eased my way into it.
“It was about having fun and it was the first day having a crowd for a while. It’s an honour to play her and I didn’t want to go out really bad so I just tried my best.
“I was a little kid watching her play so coming up against her on the court for me is a dream.”