‘Sorry we beat them’: Czech pair send Williamses into probable doubles retirement

Venus and Serena Williams bowed out of the US Open women’s doubles in the first round after losing 7-6 (5), 6-4 to the Czech team of Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova on Thursday night before another packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

After Hradecka slotted a backhand volley winner on match point after 2hr 5min, the announced sellout crowd of 23,859 fans saluted the Williams sisters with a standing ovation as they congratulated their opponents at the net, hugged one another and walked off the court in what might be the final bow for one of the sport’s most decorated partnerships.

With Serena having strongly hinted that she will be retiring after this year’s US Open, it marked the likely final appearance of the Williams-Williams team, who have combined to win 14 grand slam titles (with a sterling 14-0 record in finals) along with three Olympic gold medals as a team.

“I’m still in shock that we won,” Hradecka, a two-time major doubles champion, said to the crowd in an on-court interview. “I’m so sorry for you that we beat them, but we are so happy that we did it.”

Noskova added: “Playing against the Williams sisters is a special moment for everybody, anyone and anytime.”

Four and a half years since they last took the doubles court together and more than six since their most recent major title at Wimbledon in 2016, the Williams sisters received a wild-card entry in this year’s US Open doubles field.

While doubles matches at any stage of the tournament are rarely scheduled for the high-priced night sessions on Ashe, a first-round doubles match like Thursday’s on the main stadium court was a tournament first.

There was little to separate the pairs during a tense 72-minute opening set. But the Williams sisters were unable to convert a pair of break-point chances with Noskova serving at 4-5, then let a 5-3 advantage in the tie-breaker slip away.

After getting broken in their opening service game of the second, the Williamses made one final push to get back on serve before the Czech duo broke clear.

It marked only the second time the Williams sisters have lost in the first round at a grand slam and the first in 25 years, when they bowed to the Canadian-American pair of Jill Hetherington and Kathy Rinaldi-Stunkel at the 1997 US Open, the first major they played together.

Serena will turn her focus on solely on the singles, where she will face Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round on Friday night.