TORONTO — Karl Hale has been the tournament director on the National Bank Open since 2006 and has never seen anything just like the last 24 hours since Serena Williams said she was winding down her skilled tennis profession.
“We heard it yesterday morning, and immediately ticket sales picked up,” Hale said. “Within the players’ lounge, you heard the chatter. It’s the primary time I’ve seen so many players watch a practice. She practiced at 9 a.m., and everybody was on the market watching her.”
Williams, who will play a second-round match against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland on Wednesday night, might be playing for the last time in front of Canadian tennis fans at this tournament.
“But I hope not,” said Hale, who has known Serena and her sister Venus for greater than 20 years since they began coming to Toronto.
Williams’s farewell tour is underway, began by an as-told-to Vogue cover story for the September issue that was published online Tuesday and titled “Serena’s Farewell.” Williams wrote that she planned to retire from tennis sooner or later after not less than playing within the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29.
“I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things which are vital to me,” including working together with her venture-capital firm and growing her family, she said.
“I’m gonna relish these next few weeks,” Williams wrote on Instagram.
The National Bank Open is the lone Canadian stop for the WTA and ATP tours each August, splitting the boys’s and ladies’s events between Toronto and Montreal and alternating the cities every year. Suddenly, Williams’s match on Wednesday night in Toronto has turn into the most well liked ticket in sports.
Hale said that after the retirement news broke, the tournament sold more tickets for the Williams-Bencic showdown than it has for any of its men’s matches, notable for a tournament that began in 1881, making it almost as old as Canada itself. (Canada was founded in 1867, and the ladies’s tournament began in 1892.)
The round-of-32 match has also turn into an even bigger draw than your entire 2017 women’s tournament, he said.
Wayne Gretzky, the best hockey player of all time, reached out immediately, sending a video wishing the best women’s tennis player well. One other video is predicted to reach from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, each of which can be shown 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 currently shooting movies in the town — the reply has been “yes,” to a degree.
“We don’t have any space left,” Hale said.
“It’s going to be a very emotional night for her,” he said. “She’s unsure how you can handle it, however it’s really going to hit within the moment before the match.”
He said the plan was for Williams to not see the video messages but to go to the court only after a standing ovation, because he doesn’t wish to distract her from the match.
The stadium north of downtown will pack in 10,000 fans, and the tournament is establishing an out of doors viewing area — for the primary time — for one more 5,000 people.
Hale had a four-hour dinner at Harbour 60, an expensive Toronto steakhouse, with Serena and Venus Williams on Saturday night.
“She didn’t tell me the Vogue piece was coming, but she spoke that retirement was imminent,” he said. “All the signs were definitely pointing to a U.S. Open retirement. She’s really able to move forward with the subsequent chapter of her recent 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.”
During her straight-sets win over Nuria Parrizas-Diaz of Spain on Monday, much of the group was on its feet and bowing toward Williams.
After the match, Williams telegraphed the Vogue article that was hours from dropping, saying that she was getting “closer to the sunshine” and “freedom.”
She is plainly having fun. Over the weekend before the tournament began, she and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, and their daughter, Olympia, went to Medieval Times, the corny theater show with crowns and swords. Then on Monday, she won, for the primary time in greater than a yr. “I forgot what it felt like,” she said.
It was the primary time Olympia had sat through a full match, and he or she low-fived her mother — a go-to move if you’re 4 — after her win. “I used to be super excited,” Williams said. “It was good for her to have that memory. She’s never had it because I’ve all the time kept her away.”
Andreescu, who went on to beat Williams within the 2019 U.S. Open final, recalled her emotional postmatch bonding with Williams after her straight-sets win over Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Tuesday night.
“In Toronto, we had a pleasant conversation going, and on the U.S. Open she said some very kind things to me within the locker room,” Andreescu said. She added that she felt “grateful to have gotten the prospect to play her and connect together with her indirectly. Perhaps I’ll get yet another.”
As Williams closes out her profession, a scarcity mind-set is setting in. Only a handful of tickets for Wednesday’s match were listed with resellers, suggesting that what might be Williams’s final Canadian match is just not on the market at any price.
Williams’s fellow players on the tour are also afraid they’ll miss out. Coco Gauff, Emma Raducanu and the Canadians Leylah Fernandez, Rebecca Marino and Carol Zhao have never played against Williams and wistfully said they hoped to share the court together with her before it was too late.
Williams has won this tournament 3 times, all in Toronto.
“It was like, OK, I need to play a couple of more matches,” she said Monday. “And I absolutely love playing here. It’s no secret that I’ve had a superb time on court and doubtless even higher day off court here in Toronto.”
Depending on how she fares against the Twelfth-ranked Bencic, the highlight and the group will proceed to follow Williams from here to Cincinnati, and on to Latest York, where she won her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999 as a 17-year-old.
Marino said that it was fitting that Williams would not less than play over again on the U.S. Open and that it could make for an ideal goodbye to the game. “That’s, I believe, the place to do it,” she said.