TORONTO | It was moved to tears as the great Serena Williams bid farewell to her Canadian fans Wednesday night at the Bank Open National, some 24 hours after announcing that she would be retiring in the coming weeks.
“As I wrote in my article [which appeared in Vogue magazine on Tuesday] , I am terrible at goodbyes. But… goodbye Toronto,” the greatest player of all time told the crowd.
Williams wiped away tears a few times on the pitch, in the minutes after her second-round loss, 6-2, 6-4, to Switzerland's Belinda Bencic.
He n t is not customary in tennis to interview the loser of a match on the court. But this Wednesday evening was not a normal one.
As will be the case in each tournament that the American legend will play from now on, who has not announced the precise moment of his retirement, this meeting was an opportunity to honor the career of Williams, holder of 23 singles titles in Grand Slam.
“We love you, Serena!
Flowers, a painting and Maple Leafs and Raptors jerseys were presented to him on the field. Under the applause fed by a center full to bursting from which burst the “we love you, Serena! » and the « we will miss you! »
« I love you too! Serena replied to the crowd.
Before the match, a tribute video featuring Billie Jean King, ex-champion and founder of the WTA, several current players and also Wayne Gretzky was shown on the stadium's giant screen.
Fans rose to their feet to greet the queen of tennis as she entered the enclosure. The applause, then rather timid for this great moment, became deafening when the announcer introduced the winner of 73 WTA titles.
A heavy order
Williams, soon to be 41, had struggled in the first round on Monday against Spain's Nurria Parrizas Diaz, world 57.
It was only her second match in 13 months, after the defeat she had suffered from the outset at Wimbledon, at the end of June.
This year of absence from the field, due to a leg injury suffered in 2021 at the All England Club, knocked the ex-number 1 out of the WTA rankings.
The meeting against Bencic, 12th in the world and 15 years his junior, was therefore going to be tough.
And it was. Little in legs, perhaps shaken by these last 24 hours which have been “special”, according to her own words, the American has multiplied the unforced errors.
But she also had a few moments grace, especially on serve, where his first ball sometimes did damage as in his best years.
Williams also scored an ace from his first point of the game. < /p>
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart”
Unimpressed by this great moment in which she was taking part, Bencic took advantage of her opponent's largesse.
The Swiss broke Williams in the third game, on a completely missed second serve. She then easily spun with the sleeve.
“It was a special evening, pointed out Bencic in a press conference. It wasn't just about tennis, it was about Serena and her career. »
“It's never easy to face him. It's like you still feel his aura, she continued. […] Of course I'm happy to have won, but I'm also a little sad. I don't want her to retire.
But much to the delight of the 12,500 fans in the stadium, the second turned out to be closer, with Serena holding on until the seventh game, when she lost her serve for the first time of the set.
A returned shot off the lines at 5-4 for Bencic then ended the tournament for Williams.
She also sounded the death knell of her career on Canadian soil, where she was titled at three occasions (2001, 2011 and 2013), each time in Toronto.
The final farewell could come at the US Open, which begins on September 29, and where Serena won her first major in 1999.
“The last few hours have been emotionally charged,” admitted the American. I have always loved playing here, in front of you. I wish I was better today. »
« But thank you. Thank you from the heart. »
It all started in Quebec
It was at Club Avantage that Serena played the first tournament of her illustrious career
TORONTO | She played hundreds of tournaments around the world during her long and successful career, but it was in Quebec City, at Club Avantage, that Serena Williams played her very first professional game in October 1995. /p>
The American was just 14 years old. He had to obtain a waiver from the WTA in order to take part in the event, the pro events being reserved for athletes aged 15 and over.
At the time, except perhaps her father Richard, no one suspected that she would one day become the greatest tennis player of all time, with 23 major titles.
Moreover, the very young Serena then lost in the first round of qualifying against a compatriot, Annie Miller, ranked 141st at the time.
“I remember Serena very well who was running all over the stadium, she was so excited to be there and to play, laughs Jacques Hérisset. Her father had come with her. Obviously, no one could imagine the career that awaited him…”
A precious check for $240
At that time, Mr. Hérisset was not yet at the controls of the Challenge Bell. The one who is affectionately nicknamed “Monsieur Tennis” in Quebec took care of the volunteers and learned from Richard Legendre the workings of the job of director.
Jacques Hérisset witnessed Serena's visit to Quebec in 1995.
If, 27 years later, Jacques Hérisset still remembers Serena's arrival in Quebec, the legend has not forgotten either the place where she gave her first blows racket on the WTA.
“I remember, when she had reached $22 million in scholarships, Serena had mentioned her first check obtained in Quebec City,” underlines Mr. Hérisset.
Indeed, in 2009, after becoming the richest female athlete in history at the end of the Australian Open – she was then ahead of the Swedish golfer Annika Sorenstam –, the youngest of the Williams sisters had mentioned this check for… $240. < /p>
“I remember the day I received my first check in Quebec, in 1995, had related the former world number 1. Even if I thought at that time that I could have a good career in tennis, I would never have imagined, or even dreamed of the future. »
Invitation to curling
Serena Williams never returned to Quebec City thereafter. But it's not for lack of trying, even in the most glorious years of her career, points out Mr. Hérisset.
“With Eugène [Lapierre], we invited her by the next, he points out. We had good discussions with his agent. We had come close and the only reason she hadn't come was because she had a lot of tournaments in the previous weeks. »
His eldest Venus also competed in the Challenge Bell. She lost in the final in 2014. “When Venus came, we made her play curling. And she had called Serena to tell her: “you have to come to Quebec to try this!” Even their father wanted to come and play,” recalls Mr. Hérisset, laughing.