Tennis: Serena's third-round match creates ESPN history

Serena Williams lost to Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York on Sept 2. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK - Serena Williams' defeat at the US Open last Friday in what was likely the final match of the American's glittering career was the most-watched tennis telecast in ESPN's 43-year history, the network said on Tuesday.

The 40-year-old's third-round loss to Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York averaged 4.8 million viewers from 7.15pm to 10.30pm ET and peaked with 6.9 million viewers in the 10.15 pm quarter-hour.

The previous record was 3.9 million when Swiss great Roger Federer beat Briton Andy Murray in the 2012 Wimbledon final.

Williams and sister Venus took the tennis world by storm when they emerged from the courts of Compton, California, as teenagers and went on to dominate and change the face of the predominantly white sport.

The winner of 23 Grand Slam singles tournaments, Williams transcended the sport and her likely departure from competitive tennis to focus on growing her family and business interests led to a flood of tributes from athletes, celebrities and politicians - including the likes of former US President Barack Obama, tennis great Billie Jean King and National Basketball Association star LeBron James.

Her three singles matches and one doubles match alongside Venus helped drive up viewership through the first five days of the tournament as an average of 1.1 million viewers tuned in to ESPN networks, up 101 per cent compared to 2021.

"These are the most-viewed first five days of the US Open on record on ESPN networks," the broadcaster said in a press release.

A spokesman for ESPN, whose stable of tennis analysts include former world No. 1s Chris Evert, John McEnroe and Caroline Wozniacki, last week said that it would be happy to discuss the possibility of bringing Williams into the broadcast booth if she wanted to go in that direction after her retirement.

It remains to be seen what her next step will be. Although she has said that she is looking forward to a new life after tennis, she had also left the door open to a return.

"I'm not thinking about that. I always did love Australia, though," Williams said last week in a reference to January's Australian Open, a tournament she has won seven times. REUTERS, AFP

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