Suddenly in Toronto, It’s All About Serena Williams

TORONTO — Karl Hale has been the match director on the Nationwide Financial institution Open since 2006 and has by no means seen something just like the final 24 hours since Serena Williams stated she was winding down her skilled tennis profession.

“We heard it yesterday morning, and immediately ticket sales picked up,” Hale stated. “In the players’ lounge, you heard the chatter. It’s the first time I’ve seen so many players watch a practice. She practiced at 9 a.m., and everybody was out there watching her.”

Williams, who will play a second-round match in opposition to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland on Wednesday night time, might be taking part in for the final time in entrance of Canadian tennis followers at this match.

“But I hope not,” stated Hale, who has identified Serena and her sister Venus for greater than 20 years since they started coming to Toronto.

Williams’s farewell tour is underway, began by an as-told-to Vogue cowl story for the September challenge that was printed on-line Tuesday and titled “Serena’s Farewell.” Williams wrote that she deliberate to retire from tennis sooner or later after not less than taking part in within the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29.

“I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” together with working together with her venture-capital agency and rising her household, she stated.

“I’m gonna relish these next few weeks,” Williams wrote on Instagram.

The Nationwide Financial institution Open is the lone Canadian cease for the WTA and ATP excursions every August, splitting the boys’s and ladies’s occasions between Toronto and Montreal and alternating the cities every year. Suddenly, Williams’s match on Wednesday night time in Toronto has grow to be the most well liked ticket in sports activities.

Hale stated that after the retirement information broke, the match offered extra tickets for the Williams-Bencic showdown than it has for any of its males’s matches, notable for a match that started in 1881, making it nearly as previous as Canada itself. (Canada was based in 1867, and the ladies’s match began in 1892.)

The round-of-32 match has additionally grow to be a much bigger draw than the whole 2017 girls’s match, he stated.

Wayne Gretzky, the best hockey participant of all time, reached out instantly, sending a video wishing the best girls’s tennis participant properly. One other video is anticipated to reach from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, each of which will probably be proven in a prematch celebration of Williams, her profession and her time in Canada.

Hale has been buried in interview requests for Williams — the reply has been “no” — and requests for tickets from athletes, musicians and actors at present capturing films within the metropolis — the reply has been “yes,” to a degree.

“We don’t have any space left,” Hale stated.

“It’s going to be a really emotional night for her,” he stated. “She’s unsure how to handle it, but it’s really going to hit in the moment before the match.”

He stated the plan was for Williams to not see the video messages however to move to the court docket solely after a standing ovation, as a result of he doesn’t wish to distract her from the match.

The stadium north of downtown will pack in 10,000 followers, and the match is organising an outside viewing space — for the primary time — for an additional 5,000 folks.

Hale had a four-hour dinner at Harbour 60, an expensive Toronto steakhouse, with Serena and Venus Williams on Saturday night time.

“She didn’t tell me the Vogue piece was coming, but she spoke that retirement was imminent,” he stated. “All of the signs were definitely pointing to a U.S. Open retirement. She’s really ready to move forward with the next chapter of her new life. She’s excited, she’s not sad, but she’s going to be very, very emotional tonight. I don’t think it’s hit her yet.”

Throughout her straight-sets win over Nuria Parrizas-Diaz of Spain on Monday, a lot of the gang was on its toes and bowing towards Williams.

After the match, Williams telegraphed the Vogue article that was hours from dropping, saying that she was getting “closer to the light” and “freedom.”

She is plainly having enjoyable. Over the weekend earlier than the match started, she and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, and their daughter, Olympia, went to Medieval Times, the corny theater present with crowns and swords. Then on Monday, she received, for the primary time in additional than a yr. “I forgot what it felt like,” she stated.

It was the primary time Olympia had sat by way of a full match, and he or she low-fived her mom — a go-to transfer once you’re 4 — after her win. “I was super excited,” Williams stated. “It was good for her to have that memory. She’s never had it because I’ve always kept her away.”

Andreescu, who went on to beat Williams within the 2019 U.S. Open ultimate, recalled her emotional postmatch bonding with Williams after her straight-sets win over Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Tuesday night time.

“In Toronto, we had a nice conversation going, and at the U.S. Open she said some very kind things to me in the locker room,” Andreescu stated. She added that she felt “grateful to have gotten the chance to play her and connect with her in some way. Maybe I’ll get one more.”

As Williams closes out her profession, a shortage mind-set is setting in. Solely a handful of tickets for Wednesday’s match had been listed with resellers, suggesting that what might be Williams’s ultimate Canadian match just isn’t on the market at any value.

Williams’s fellow gamers on the tour are additionally afraid they’ll miss out. Coco Gauff, Emma Raducanu and the Canadians Leylah Fernandez, Rebecca Marino and Carol Zhao have by no means performed in opposition to Williams and wistfully stated they hoped to share the court docket together with her earlier than it was too late.

Williams has received this match thrice, all in Toronto.

“It was like, OK, I want to play a few more matches,” she stated Monday. “And I absolutely love playing here. It’s no secret that I’ve had a fabulous time on court and probably even better time off court here in Toronto.”

Relying on how she fares in opposition to the Twelfth-ranked Bencic, the highlight and the gang will proceed to comply with Williams from right here to Cincinnati, and on to New York, the place she received her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999 as a 17-year-old.

Marino stated that it was becoming that Williams would not less than play as soon as extra on the U.S. Open and that it might make for an ideal goodbye to the game. “That’s, I think, the place to do it,” she stated.