Serena Williams bid an emotional good-bye to the US Open following a third-round defeat to Ajla Tomljanovic, in what could be the last singles match of her glittering career.
Serena enjoyed a good start to the major, registering a second-round win over world number two Anett Kontaveit. But she fell short against the 46th ranked Australian, losing 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1.
The 40-year-old, who last month signalled she planned to retire after the US Open, lost after a gruelling battle that lasted three hours and five minutes.
Serena, who amassed 23 Grand Slam singles titles in her 27-year career, poured everything into one last stand in front of a partisan crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But the veteran wilted in the decisive third set, affected by the demands of a heroic second set display that saw her level the match in a tie break.
As Tomljanovic raced into a 5-1 lead in the third, Serena continued to fight, saving five match points in a marathon seventh game before finally succumbing.
Afterwards Serena thanked the crowd. Asked by an on-court interviewer whether there was any possibility she might yet extend her career, she replied: "I don't think so, but you never know."
"It's been a fun ride," she said. "It's been the most incredible ride and journey I've ever been on, I mean, in my life.
"I'm just so grateful to every single person that's ever said, 'Go, Serena,' in their life. I'm just so grateful. You got me here."
“I’ve been down before. … I don’t really give up,” she added said. “In my career, I’ve never given up. In matches, I don’t give up. Definitely wasn’t giving up tonight.”
Tomljanovic, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that Serena's career is drawing to a close.
"I'm feeling really sorry just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do," she told the crowd. "What she's done for me, for the sport of tennis, is incredible.
"I never thought I'd have a chance to play her in her last match when I remember watching her in all those finals, so this is a surreal moment for me."
Tomljanovic said she had also never felt certain of victory.
"Even to the last point, I knew that she's in a position to win even when she's down 5-1," she said. "That's just who she is. She's the greatest of all time. Period."
Later on, Serena hinted at a tilt at the Australian Open in January, saying: "I always did love Australia, though."
Following the match, the tributes began to pour in. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama congratulated Serena on a great career.
"Congrats on an amazing career, @SerenaWilliams! How lucky were we to be able to watch a young girl from Compton grow up to become one of the greatest athletes of all time. I'm proud of you, my friend - and I can't wait to see the lives you continue to transform with your talents." Michelle tweeted.
Golf great Tiger Woods credited the tennis star for inspiring many young players.
"@serenawilliams you're literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!" he tweeted.