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2022 US Open Notebook: Serena Williams ends run with epic match on Day 5

It wasn’t just the most memorable sporting event of the year. 

It was perhaps the most memorable sporting event of this nascent decade.

Serena Williams–23-time Grand Slam champion, former world No. 1, four-time Olympic gold medalist–likely ended her professional tennis career with a Round 3 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-1. The match was appropriately epic, lasting over three hours. 

But the icon’s last dance (swing?) in Arthur Ashe Stadium didn’t mark the end of the 2022 US Open. There was plenty of other competition, as well. 

Video: Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Serena Williams Highlights | Round 3

World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev won his third-round match, while Coco Gauff defeated Madison Keys in a showcase of American talent.

Doubles–men’s, women’s, mixed–continued. Defending men’s champions Rajeev Ram of Illinois and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain won their Round 2 clash against Aussies Aslan Karatsev and Luke Saville in straight sets; the 2021 mixed winners, Desirae Krawczyk of California and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, also downed their American opponents, Alycia Parks and Christopher Eubanks, in two.

But before we get to all of that–let’s dive into three hours of tennis we’ll never forget.

Thank you, Serena Williams: 

We still don’t know if Serena Williams has officially, officially retired. But if this was truly the end–what a way to go.

Though there are so many ways to examine and interpret Serena’s legacy, both on and off the court (see below), let’s focus on the night’s match. Returning to Arthur Ashe Stadium just 24 hours after she and sister Venus Williams lost their doubles opener, Serena played her third match in as many days against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, a 29-year-old who reached a career-high singles ranking of world No. 38 this past February. 

Tomljanovic has been on a hot streak as of late, winning 15 of her last 19 matches. But down 5-3 in the opening set, she looked like she’d soon become Serena’s latest victim. Instead, the Aussie broke right back, maintained serve, broke for the advantage, then served for the set. 

At 83 minutes, the second set was almost as long as an average best-of-three match. This time, it was Serena who won four straight games–then had to stave off her hungry opponent. 

Tomljanovic refused to bow to the raucous crowd or the determined American, upping her game and fighting her way to a tiebreak, which Serena ultimately won. Arguably the highlight of the match: a ridiculous game at 3-5 that saw the current world No. 46 fend off four break and set points and reach deuce nine times.

The decider was relatively straightforward–until the very end. Serena immediately broke Tomljanovic’s serve, and then had her own serve broken right back. The Aussie won the next four games without much interference. But it took six match points–and three saved break points–for Tomljanovic to book her spot in the US Open’s fourth round for the very first time.

"It's been a fun ride, it's been the most incredible ride and journey I've ever been on in my life, and I'm just so grateful to every single person that's ever said, 'Go Serena' in their life,” Williams said in a post-match, on court interview. “I'm just so grateful because you got me here."

But Tomljanovic had the final word: “She’s the greatest of all time. Period.” 

Battle of the seeds in singles: 

As we near the midpoint of the 2022 US Open and the draws grow thinner, we’re starting to see the bigger picture. Many players–and their dedicated fans–had high hopes for the year’s fourth Grand Slam tournament: For some, expectations have been dashed, while for others, dreams could still come true. 

After Serena’s emotional exit, last year’s US Open champion, world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, took to the court and fended off tricky qualifier Yibing Wu, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Despite a 45-minute opening set, Medvedev punched the clock in less than two hours. 

Matteo Berrettini and his big serve–which reached as fast as 136 mph on Friday–faced a tough opponent in a resurgent Andy Murray, the tournament’s 2012 champion from Great Britain. But the Italian, seeded No. 13 this year, won key break points to secure a straight sets win during the day’s first match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. 

Louis Armstrong Stadium also hosted epic matches on Friday, some of which were long. It took No. 5 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia three sets and over two hours to defeat American Shelby Rogers, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. The men’s No. 5 seed, Casper Ruud of Norway, outlasted and outperformed his 29th-seeded American opponent Tommy Paul in a nearly four-and-a-half hour duel. Ruud bageled Paul in the fifth to cap a 7-6(3), 6-7(5), 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-0 victory.

Still, other contests on Armstrong were much shorter. Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, the tournament’s No. 17 seed, defeated 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2. Australian Nick Kyrgios, the No. 23 seed who was the men’s singles runner-up at Wimbledon, defeated American wild card J.J. Wolf 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

In the Grandstand, Veronika Kudermetova (the women’s No. 18 seed), Karen Khachanov (the men’s No. 27 seed) and Pablo Carreno Busta (the men’s No. 12 seed) won in two, three and four sets, respectively. Kudermetova downed Hungary’s Dalma Galfi, 6-2, 6-0; Khachanov reached the Round of 16 after British opponent Jack Draper retired; and Pablo Carreno Busta ripped through two sets before dropping the third and finishing off his 18th-seeded opponent Alex de Minaur with a tweener lob in the fourth-set tiebreak. He advanced, 6-1, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(5). 

Doubles in action:

In addition to the doubles matches mentioned above, some big names in mixed doubles won: Canadian Leylah Fernandez, last year’s singles runner-up, teamed with Jack Sock for a Round 1 victory. The second-seeded pairing of Shuai Zhang and Mate Pavic won 7-6(1), 6-3. 

In women’s doubles, No. 3 seeds and five-time Grand Slam doubles champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova headlined the day. The all-Czech duo—who are looking to complete their set of Grand Slam championship trophies at Flushing Meadows—needed just 58 minutes to defeat Ana Bogdan and Sabrina Santamaria, 6-2, 6-2. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Jelena Ostapenko (seeded No. 4) and Gabriela Dabrowski/Giuliana Olmos (seeded No. 5) won their respective matches.

Men’s doubles saw Marcelo Arevalo/Jean-Julien Rojer (seeded No. 3) claim their second-round match in straight sets, 6-0, 6-3. 

Read more in our doubles wrap, below.

Quote of the day:

Social media post of the day:

Simply too many to pick from. USOpen.org compiled social media reactions in the below piece.