New York, USA, 3 September 2022 | Matt Trollope

Ajla Tomljanovic produced one of the performances of her career on Friday night to end Serena Williams’ US Open campaign.

The Australian No.1 recovered from deficits of 5-3 in the first set, and 5-2 in the second, before eventually getting on top of Williams in the third.

After more than three hours of gladiatorial battle, and one of the more compelling final games of a Grand Slam match in tennis history, Tomljanovic completed a 7-5 6-7(4) 6-1 triumph on her sixth match point.

And the result took on a far greater significance, given it is expected to be the last match of the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s extraordinary career.

“I’m feeling really sorry, just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do,” said Tomljanovic, addressing the sold-out crowd during her on-court interview.

“What she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis, is incredible. 

“I never thought that I’d have a chance to play her in her last match, when I remember watching her as a kid in all those finals, so this is a surreal moment for me.”

She progresses to the fourth round at Flushing Meadows for the first time in her career.

Tomljanovic will next face the surging Liudmila Samsonova, who is currently riding a 13-match winning streak and has not dropped a set so far this tournament.

Samsonova captured WTA titles in Washington DC and Cleveland leading into the US Open.

For fans of power baseline tennis, Tomljanovic versus Williams was a glorious slugfest befitting the occasion, watched on by 23,000 vocal fans at a capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night in New York –  and millions more around the world.

The Aussie broke Williams in the opening game of the match, but the six-time US Open champion responded by winning eight straight points to wrest control.

Williams rode that momentum to build a 5-3 lead, but at this point she stalled, while Tomljanovic freed up, producing a flurry of winners – including a backhand down the line to break for 6-5 – in winning four straight games, and the set.

Less than a month out from her 41st birthday, Williams rebounded to open up leads of 4-0 and 5-2, much to the delight of the vocal crowd.

But again, Tomljanovic demonstrated magnificent composure and resolve, and refused to panic.

As the quality of the tennis rose, she reduced the deficit, stared down four set points in a gripping eighth game, and later levelled scores.

Soon, the two women commenced a tiebreak, which proved a microcosm of the match. 

Serena blazed her way to a 4-1 lead, only for Tomljanovic to draw level at 4-4.

But two points later, Williams scorched a winner down the line to arrived at set point, and converted it – and the roof nearly lifted off Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“The thing is, I lost that second set not by doing much wrong; she just played great,” Tomljanovic said. 

“And I couldn’t dwell too long, because I know if I’m not focused for two seconds, she will run off with that third set. 

“So I just tried to hang in there and take one point at a time, literally.”

By this point, the match had already extended well beyond two hours, and early in the third, after breaking Tomljanovic in the opening game, Williams began to fade.

Tomljanovic reeled off five straight games to stand one game from victory, but there was to be one final, famous, Serena charge.

The American saved five match points – almost all with winners – to plant the seed of a comeback.

Tomljanovic never allowed it to germinate.

Playing amid the din of the crowd and confronting the very real prospect of a Williams fightback, Tomljanovic held her nerve to finally close out victory, after three hours and five minutes had elapsed on the clock.

“I just thought she would beat me. The pressure wasn’t on me. She’s Serena,” Tomljanovic reflected. 

“Even until the last point, I knew that she’s in a really good position to win, even when she’s down 5-1. I don’t know how many match points I needed to finish it off, but that’s just who she is. 

“She’s the greatest of all time. Period.”