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Farewell Serena Williams: Remembering the 2022 National Bank Open

While we often think back to some of the epic finals in Toronto at the prestigious National Bank Open, the third oldest women's tournament in the world after Wimbledon and the US Open, let’s revisit a major moment in tournament history that occurred in an earlier round.

It was at the 2022 edition of the event that tennis fans got to say goodbye to one of the greatest tennis players to ever grace the court, as Serena Williams played here for the final time.

It's impossible not to be in awe of the accomplishments that Williams achieved during her incredible 27-year career: 23 major titles, four Olympic gold medals, 319 weeks as World No. 1 and her three NBO titles, all of which came in Toronto.

In 2001, Serena captured her first title, defeating fellow American Jennifer Capriati 6-1, 6-7(9), 6-3. She would have to wait ten years for her next Canadian trophy, beating Sam Stosur in 2011 by a score of 6-4, 6-2. Her last title here was in 2013 when she defeated surprise finalist Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-0.

Read also: Rafael Nadal’s Unforgettable First in Montréal

It is 2022, that we will focus on, as it was Williams’ last tournament in our country and was where she announced to the world about her impending “evolution away from tennis” in the now famous Vogue Magazine article.

Even before the big news broke, tennis fans were already charged-up that summer about Williams being back in Toronto. In a major coup, NBO Tournament Director Karl Hale had managed to secure not only Serena, but big sister Venus as well into the main draw.

The tennis world hadn’t seen much of Serena over the previous year, as she had injured her hamstring at Wimbledon in 2021 and only had just returned to the sport at the same event in 2022. She had not played a hard-court tournament since the Australian Open in 2021 and nobody really knew what to expect from her as she re-emerged on that same surface in Toronto.

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Williams had already played her opening-round match on the Monday of the tournament before the Vogue Magazine hit newsstands. She had triumphed over Nuria Parrizas Diaz 6-3, 6-4 and in her post-match press conference, the American legend dropped a major hint that we didn’t yet realize was about to morph into something much bigger.

“I guess there’s just a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m getting closer to the light… lately that’s been it for me, I can’t wait to get to that light.”

When the bombshell news dropped Tuesday morning, the reaction for many was a mix of sadness at realizing the impending loss of an all-time legend of the sport along with excitement for those in Toronto who would get to see Williams play in person for the final time.

The news spread quickly everyone on site was buzzing about the announcement. How lucky were we – both fans and media alike – to have Williams here in the city and at the tournament as this major news broke. Everyone was talking and thinking about Williams.

On Wednesday, she played her next and ultimately final match here. The Cynnamon practice courts were surrounded well over an hour before her designated practice session and there were multiple news helicopters circling the air space over head. It was truly a scene like no other.

Sensing the heightened scrutiny and likely wanting to minimize distractions as she prepared to face Belinda Bencic that night on Centre Court, Williams switched her practice location at the last minute and opted for the relative quiet of that main stage, which was not yet open to the public to come watch.

Unsurprisingly given her lack of match play and the quality of her opponent – Bencic was ranked 12th in the world at the time – Williams was not able to extend her time at the NBO any further than the second round. The Swiss star, who had won here in 2015, won the match comfortably 6-2, 6-4 before a packed house of adoring Williams fans.

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After the match, the 23-time major champion gave a heart-felt speech on the court amidst the many fans who begged her not to retire.

“It’s just been so overwhelming,” she said trying hard to hold back tears. “I’m terrible with goodbyes, but goodbye Toronto.”

Goodbye Serena and thank you again for all the long-lasting memories you gave us. For those in attendance for that final National Bank Open match, it was a moment we’ll never forget.

The WTA's best return to Toronto this summer for the National Bank Open August 4 to 12, 2024 at Sobeys Stadium. 2024 Tickets are on sale. Get your tickets today!