MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Serena Williams broke down in tears and cut short her post-match news conference on Thursday after her 6-3 6-4 defeat to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semi-finals ended her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
Williams won her last major title in 2017 at Melbourne Park before taking a break to give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia, and has lost four major finals since returning to tennis in 2018.
The 39-year-old, who is one Grand Slam title short of Margaret Court’s record, walked off Rod Laver Arena to a standing ovation on Thursday, pausing for a moment to put her hand on her heart and wave to the crowd.
“The Aussie crowd is so amazing, so it was nice to see,” Williams, sporting a “Queen” necklace, told reporters.
When asked if her exit from the court was a final farewell to Melbourne Park, she said with a smile: “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
But the smile soon faded, and a question about whether her defeat to Osaka was just a “bad day at the office” saw her take a sip of water before choking up.
“I don’t know. I’m done,” she said, leaving the room in tears.
Before Thursday, Williams had looked her sharpest in years at the tournament but 24 unforced errors proved costly against Osaka, who also beat her in the 2018 U.S. Open final.
“The difference today was errors,” Williams said earlier in her news conference. “Honestly, it was opportunities where I could have won. I could have been up 5-Love. I just made so many errors.
“Not like I was on the run or anything, they were just easy, easy mistakes. It was a big error day for me today.”
World number one Novak Djokovic, who is chasing Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles in the men’s game, said he empathised with Williams’ frustrations.
“When you’re chasing big things that are related to the history of the sport, obviously it has a lot of weight, a lot of pressure,” the 17-times Grand Slam champion told reporters after reaching the final.
“She’s such an amazing champion … what she has been doing, is still doing at her age is extraordinary.
“She’s one of the greatest ever, there is no doubt, (among) athletes as well as tennis players. So, I’m just proud and honoured to be playing at the same time as she does.”
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander said Williams’ tears were purely disappointment.
“For her this is a bigger loss, because she is moving better, she is playing better and she is still not really close to Osaka,” said the Eurosport pundit.
“I feel that’s where the emotions start – she’s probably thinking, what do I need to do now?”
(Additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford and Pritha Sarkar)