The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Serena Williams begins her countdown with a tearful goodbye to Toronto

Serena Williams made an emotional exit from the National Bank Open after losing to Belinda Bencic. (Eduardo Lima/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Homemade signs dotted the stands in Toronto Wednesday after what may have been Serena Williams’s last tournament appearance in the Canadian city. “We love you, Serena,” was one. “Thanks 4 the years,” read another. A third simply said, “Queen.”

Williams made an emotional return to the court in her first match since Tuesday’s Instagram announcement that “the countdown has begun” to the end of her career. She lost, 6-2, 6-4, to Belinda Bencic in a National Bank Open second-round match despite the crowd urging her on and, when it was over, she grew emotional as she waited for a lengthy standing ovation to subside before speaking to the crowd.

“A lot of emotions, obviously,” Williams said of her feelings since first hinting in an interview with Vogue magazine that her retirement is likely after the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29.

“It’s been a pretty interesting 24 hours,” she added, placing her hand over her heart. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, but goodbye, Toronto!”

Next up for Williams on her impromptu farewell tour is next week’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, another tuneup for the U.S. Open, where Williams has won six of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles. Only Margaret Court’s 24 surpasses that total.

In Toronto, she was given flowers as well as Raptors and Maple Leafs jerseys and told the crowd, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s been a joy playing in front of you guys all these years.”

After her final tournament, Williams, who will turn 41 next month, has said she is looking to evolve away from tennis, concentrating on her Serena Ventures business and other opportunities. She also hopes to give her daughter, Olympia, a baby sister or brother.

“There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction. That time is always hard when you love something so much,” she wrote on Instagram under a shot of the Vogue cover. “My goodness do I enjoy tennis. But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just [as] exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”