The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion has left an indelible mark, not only in tennis but in all sports.
Tomljanovic won 7-5 6-7(4) 6-1 for more than three hours to advance to the round of 16 at the US Open for the first time.
“I don’t think so, but you never know,” she said.
In a cheerful and tearful interview, she thanked her parents and said she was very grateful to them for starting it all.
She attributes her success to her sister Venus Williams.
“I wouldn’t be Serena without Venus,” she said. “She’s the only reason Serena Williams exists.”
Tomljanović said she was sorry because “I love Serena as much as you guys do.”
“What she has done for me, for tennis, is unbelievable,” she said in an interview on the court. “When I remember seeing her in all the finals as a kid, I never thought I’d get the chance to play her in her last game, so it was a surreal moment for me.”
Tomljanović was asked how she handles the occasion in this electrical environment at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I just thought she was going to beat me, you know,” Tomljanovic said. “The pressure is not on me. She’s Serena. I don’t think I – even down to the last point, I know she’s in a very good position even if she’s down 5-1. I don’t know how many match points I need to get Finish the race, but that’s who she is. She’s the greatest person ever.”
“I’m just Serena,” she said matter-of-factly, a line that will undoubtedly become one of the most memorable in sports.
The ability to find another gear and dig deep in the most difficult of moments has laid the foundation for Williams’ continued success on the tour for more than 20 years.
On Friday, she showed the same grit and tenacity as the world number one. 46 Tomljanović leads her race.
“I’ve been frustrated before,” Williams told reporters after the game. “I’ve been down, like I thought it was 5-1 and then came back. I didn’t really give up.”
Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, beat five match points before hitting the net.
“I tried it,” Williams said. “Ajla just played a little better.”
The 23,859 spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium tried to give Williams another victory, but the winner of 847 career games and 73 championships was second on the night.
Considering her performance at the U.S. Open — winning just one game after returning to the game in June after a year out with an injury — it’s fair to assume that Williams’ first-round match against Danka Kovinic was only one game. But it was an emotional farewell from tennis for the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
But as “Just Serena,” Williams produced her best tennis of the season so far, beating Covinic perfectly and extending her last dance in New York by a few days.
And then there’s the world’s No. 1 Contaveit. 2 and one of the toughest players on the tour. The Estonian will provide a tougher test than Covinic and Williams, who undoubtedly entered their game as rather weak opponents.
Surely, after two stellar decades in his prime, will Williams’ career come to an end? Of course it doesn’t. After all, she’s “just Serena.”
In her three-set victory over Kontaveit, Williams took her tennis to a level that many thought she might never be able to reach again. The accuracy and strength of her serve for which she is known seems to have returned, as has her speed on the court.
Tomjanovic reached a career-high No. 38 this season and has some notable successes in 2022, including a quarter-final at Wimbledon and most recently the Cincinnati Open.
She was solid Friday as she had just 30 unforced errors compared to Williams’ 51.
She will face Russian Lyudmila Samsonova in the round of 16. Samsonova defeated Serbia’s Alexandra Krunic 6-3, 6-3.
CNN’s Matias Grez contributed to this report.