Tennis legend Serena Williams eliminated from the National Bank Open on the Canadian swan song

No one inside the stadium wanted it to end.

And perhaps no one there wanted to believe that Serena Williams’ professional tennis career in Canada had just ended.

A crowd of 9,500 fans inside Sobeys Stadium in Toronto cheered wildly on Wednesday night as Williams wiped tears from her eyes, just 24 hours after Williams announced her impending retirement, the emotion of the moment gripped the woman from 40 years.

In a match that lasted an hour and 17 minutes, the Swiss player Belinda Bencic defeated one of the best of all time in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.

“There are a lot of emotions. I always love playing here in Canada. I wish it could have been better, but Belinda played really well today. It’s been a very interesting 24 hours,” Williams said.

In a lengthy post-match on-court interview, Williams tried to find words to deal with the moment: 27 years after her professional tennis debut at a Tier 3 tournament in Quebec City, this would be how her professional tennis career in Canada would end.

“It’s been so overwhelming,” Williams said, fighting back tears.

“I’m terrible with goodbyes. But goodbye Toronto.”

She continued, being interrupted by fans who said they loved her.

“I love you all,” Williams yelled.

“There’s been some really good times here and I’ll be back as a visitor to this city. It’s been extraordinary. I’ve had some amazing games here. And great times.”

And then, after receiving flowers and paintings and Toronto Maple Leaf and Raptors jerseys, the 23-time Slam singles winner took her last walk off the court in Canada.

Williams hits a return shot against Bencic in front of a crowd of 9,500 fans at Sobeys Stadium on Wednesday. (Carlos Osorio/CBC)

The crowd roared. They greeted. Many cried. Williams yelled, wiping his face with a towel as he waved to the crowd.

“Thanks for all the support,” Williams said.

It couldn’t have been a more different scene on Wednesday night than the one Williams faced as a 14-year-old playing his first professional match in Canada.

No one knew who she was. And certainly no one had any idea what she was about to become, and what she would dominate for the next two decades.

When she played that qualifying match in Quebec City 27 years ago, she was beaten in straight sets in less than an hour. There were no fans. No player introductions. It was unforgettable.

SEE | Fans in Toronto pay tribute to Serena Williams:

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Fans in Toronto paid tribute to the work Serena Williams has done for women and people of color, following the tennis superstar’s announcement that she would retire after the US Open in September.

And while this was also a direct loss tonight, this game, the scenes that played out inside the stadium in Toronto were unforgettable.

To his credit, Bencic was sensational on a night that was all about Williams. And the Swiss tennis player also knew it.

Bencic appeared poised and calm throughout the night, holding off a boisterous crowd that was very much against her to build an early 3-1 lead.

On an idyllic night for tennis in Toronto, with a light breeze swirling around Sobeys Stadium and the sun beating down on fans sitting in the east side grandstand, Williams tried to keep up with the youngest backhand hitter, fast and powerful in Bencic.

But time and again Bencic proved to be too much. He cruised to a first set victory, 6-2, in just 41 minutes.

Serena Williams wipes away a tear before walking off the court Wednesday night following her loss to Belinda Bencic. (Carlos Osorio/CBC)

Throughout the night, the crowd tried to motivate Williams with cheers and applause. On several occasions, the head referee asked the fans to keep quiet. But they continued, hoping they could reunite Williams.

And it seemed to work early in the second set.

Williams held serve and seemed to have a break in her set. He was moving around the court, hitting the ball harder and had eliminated some of the unforced errors that plagued her in the first set.

But with the score tied at 4-4, Bencic was able to break Williams to take a 5-4 lead and serve for the match. She made no mistake and finished it in no time.

And that’s how it ended.

But before all the drama, emotion and ending, there was celebration, recognition and respect.

It was hard to escape Williams’ omnipresence around Toronto Stadium. A banner larger than her life was hung outside the venue.

On the pillars within the concourse are photos of Williams highlighting his three Canadian championships.

Minutes before Williams walked onto the court, there was a video tribute inside the venue as fans took their seats.

It started another tennis legend, Billie Jean King.

“She has used tennis as a platform far beyond the sport. Making it better for women, particularly better for women of color. You are the best,” King said as part of her tribute.

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is done. Greatness recognizing greatness.

Fans held signs reading “Toronto loves Serena” and “GOAT” the greatest of all time.

And it’s hard to argue with that.

Williams has won 855 matches. He has won four Olympic gold medals. 47 hard court titles in his career.

Three times, Williams has won the Canadian title: she won it all in 2001 and then again 10 years later in 2011. Her last victory in Canada was in 2013. She is the last American woman to win in Canada.

His longevity and ability to stay excellent through it all is unparalleled. Ten of his 23 Slam titles came after the age of 30.

And now, after so much winning and all those years, it is rapidly coming to an end.

Williams will walk off the court for the last time at the US Open in New York next month. He loves to play there, at Arthur Ashe Court, the largest tennis stadium in the world.

It’s probably because on the biggest stages throughout her career, Williams met the pressure, the expectations, the naysayers and every opponent she faced with a fighting spirit that not many could match.

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