Serena Williams suffered a semifinals defeat to Shuai Zhang at the Tie Break Tens, her first singles competition in 2018.
The eight-woman competition at Madison Square Garden was a winner-take-all tournament for $250,000 to the victor. Each head-to-head battle was scored in a tiebreak format, with the first to 10 points (with at least a two-point margin) moving onto the next round.
Williams beat Marion Bartoli 10-5 in the quarterfinal Monday but couldn't close things out against Zhang in a 13-11 loss.
Elina Svitolina won the tournament by outscoring her final two opponents 20-3. Full results are available at TieBreakTens.com.
This is only the second year this event has featured female competitors, with Simona Halep winning in 2017 in Madrid. This version included an even better field, with five players ranked inside the top 40 in the world, including big names like Svitolina, Venus Williams and New York City native CoCo Vandeweghe.
Serena Williams is not among the top players in the rankings after missing the past year because of her pregnancy, but she is still the biggest name in the sport after winning 23 grand slams. The question is how effective she will be upon returning.
The 36-year-old suffered a first-round loss in a doubles match last month and a singles exhibition loss in December.
Williams looked the part in her first match, earning a 10-5 win over Bartoli in the quarterfinal.
Although the former Wimbledon champion went up 4-2, Williams responded with six straight points, including this ace:
The American closed out the opening victory and moved on to the semifinals.
Zhang provided a much bigger challenge in the second round, with the two talented players creating arguably the most exciting battle of the tournament.
Williams led 6-4, and after joking about a review, scored back-to-back aces to go up 9-8. Unfortunately, she couldn't take advantage of match point and a pair of double-faults allowed Zhang to take advantage.
The Chinese star finally earned her spot in the finals after this long rally:
Despite the loss, Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times discussed the positives from Williams:
She will make her 2018 WTA Tour debut this week at the BNP Paribus Open at Indian Wells. She will face Zarina Diyas in the first round in what could be a tough test for the unseeded player.