NEW YORK -- In the end, there was no fanfare.
When Venus and Serena Williams lost what appears to be their last doubles match Thursday night at sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium, they quickly packed their bags, waved briefly to the crowd and walked together to the locker room.
The novel pairing of 37-year-old Lucie Hradecka and 17-year-old Linda Noskova of the Czech Republic was too much in a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win.
It wasn’t quite the last-dance scenario some might have envisioned before the tournament began. The soon-to-be-retiring Serena plays Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday night for a spot in the singles Round of 16.
Venus, who has yet to discuss her future plans, did not offer any further clarity. It was doubles that allowed her to sidestep the retirement question from reporters after losing a first-round match to Alison Van Uytvanck.
“Right now,” she told reporters, “I’m just focused on the doubles.”
So, too, was much of the tennis world. Women’s doubles were featured in an Ashe night match for the first time in a decade.
Venus served the opening game, and it ended in vintage Williams fashion -- a big serve from Venus and a sharply angled (though two-handed) volley winner from Serena. The match proceeded in orderly fashion and, after 63 minutes, arrived at a tiebreak.
That one also played out to the end, with the Czechs winning on a huge second-serve return from Hradecka right down the alley past Venus at net.
When Serena was broken in the second set, the Czechs took a 3-0 lead. But with Hradecka serving at 4-2, 40-love, the Williamses somehow reeled them back in to get back on serve. With Serena serving at 4-5, the Czechs broke her, converting their second match point on a Hradecka volley winner.
According to Venus, it was Serena’s idea to play doubles.
“She’s the boss,” Venus said, “so do whatever she tells me to do. I don’t think we have played since 2016, but might be getting that wrong.”
For the record, the last time they played together was 2018 at Roland Garros, where they lost in the Round of 16. The Williams sisters have always enjoyed playing doubles; they won their first title in Oklahoma City and, still teenagers, their first Grand Slam at the 1999 French Open.
They also won three Olympic gold medals -- in 2000 (Sydney), 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London). They have famously reached 14 Grand Slam finals -- and won all of them. The last came in 2016 at Wimbledon. Since then, Serena has played with Caroline Wozniacki (Auckland, 2020) and, most recently, with Ons Jabeur earlier this year on the grass in Eastbourne. Venus played doubles with Coco Gauff a year ago in Paris and mixed doubles with Jamie Murray this year at Wimbledon, where they lost their second match.
Doubles has always been not only fun for the sisters, but also a welcome diversion from the pressures of pursuing a major singles title. This might help Serena as she contemplates Friday’s third-round singles match against Ajla Tomljanovic.
It’s a fine line, she said, between the fierce concentration necessary to succeed in singles and stepping back to appreciate the outpouring of support she’s received here.
“I think I’ve mostly been kind of blocking everything out, but then at the same time I’ve been embracing a little bit of it, because I also want to enjoy the moment,” she told reporters after defeating Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday night. “I think these moments are clearly fleeting. For me, it’s really about having a little embrace but also understanding that I’m here to focus.
“I feel like everything is a bonus. So I’m just really trying to figure out which percentage I want of each.”
Some have questioned the wisdom of Serena playing doubles. At nearly 41, should she be saving herself for singles? Serena, scoffing, told reporters that she felt she needed all the matches she could get. Certainly, she took the opportunity to tighten up her net game.
“We have had some great wins,” Venus said before the match. “It would be nice to add some more. More than anything, I just want to hold my side of the court up and be a good sister.”
As they walked off, chatting among themselves, you got the idea that she checked that box.