SERENA Williams departed the Australian Open in tears and then hinted she might never return to Melbourne Park.
The American gave the crowd inside the Rod Laver Arena a long and extended wave goodbye with her hand on her heart as she was outclassed 6-3 6-4 by Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals.
This was her 10th attempt to win Slam No.24, which would have drawn her level with Margaret Court at the top of the majors list.
Questions were inevitably asked if this was her way of saying farewell to an event which she has won seven times, the last time in 2017 when she was a few weeks pregnant with her daughter
In her post-match press conference, Williams was asked if she was indeed saying goodbye and she responded: “I don’t know. If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone. So…”
She added: “I wouldn’t say I was nervous, no. The difference today was errors. I made so many errors today.
“Honestly, it was opportunities where I could have won. I could have been up 5-Love. I just made so many errors.”
“I don’t know, I just made too many mistakes there, easy mistakes. Not like I was on the run or anything, they were just easy, easy mistakes.
“The Aussie crowd is so amazing, so it was nice to see.
The eyes started to well up with tears and she made a surprise exit from the press room after answering a relatively mundane enquiry about her number of unforced errors during the match.
Williams just said “I don’t know, I’m done” and walked out.
Osaka, the third seed, is now in an excellent position to win a second Slam title Down Under.
The Japanese star, 23, is already the highest-paid woman in sport but she is also becoming the dominance force in women’s tennis.
If she beats either Czech Karolina Muchova or American Jennifer Brady in the final on Saturday it will represent her fourth title from eifght majors.
Osaka enjoyed her third win over Williams in 75 minutes, which was played in front of a small crowd after the doors were opened following a five-day coronavirus city lockdown.
Osaka said: “I was really nervous and scared in the beginning but I eased my way into it.
“It was about having fun and it was the first day having a crowd for a while.
“It’s an honour to play her and I didn’t want to go out really bad so I just tried my best. “I was a little kid watching her play so coming up against her on the court for me is a dream.”