While the action down in Melbourne continues along on Day 6 of the Australian Open, time appeared to briefly stand still as audiences bid a heartfelt goodbye to hometown champion Sam Stosur, drawing out their applause as if to prolong her last moments on the court as a professional tennis player.

Stosur and mixed doubles partner Matthew Ebden lost, 4-6 6-3 10-6, in a match tiebreak against the top-ranked pairing of Demi Schuurs and Nikola Mektić. This also comes after Stosur’s first round loss on Thursday in women’s doubles along with partner Alizé Cornet.

“It’s gonna be really hard to say goodbye,” remarked commentators as Stosur and Schuurs embraced at the net after the match. “Samantha Stosur, you are and will always be a champion.”

“I feel so happy and grateful to have the opportunity to finish playing at my favorite slam – my home slam – in front of my Aussie fans, friends and family,” Stosur shared on Instagram last week just before the start of the Australian Open.

“Even though I’ve made the decision to retire from the sport I absolutely love, a small part of me would be happy to keep playing forever.”

Stosur’s quarter-century pro career was studded with countless highlights including 28 doubles titles, nine singles titles, three mixed doubles titles, and 61 consecutive weeks as the world no. 1 in doubles. Amongst those are eight Grand Slam titles.

In 2011, she overcame even Serena Williams to become the U.S. Open champion – the first Grand Slam singles tournament won by an Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980.

Beyond what Stosur has meant to Australian sport, as an out player she’s also become an important part of the queer history of women’s tennis. Despite keeping a low profile on her personal life for much of her professional career, she recently opened up in an interview with sports broadcaster Neroli Meadows about how coming out has been a real weight off her shoulders.

“It actually felt so good just to open up that little bit more and have that truth of my relationship with her (Liz Astling) out there and just to finally say thank you to her,” Stosur said of her announcement of the birth of her daughter, one of the first times she had spoken publicly about her relationship with her partner.

“You’ve just got to be completely honest with yourself. If that’s who you are and that’s who you want to be, in anything in life, that’s all that matters and just enjoy it and embrace all of it.”

The queer representation at Stosur’s final match is itself a testament to how much women’s tennis has grown as a space that so many players can feel comfortable embracing their authentic selves before fans and the media. Both her coach, Rennae Stubbs, and her competitor, Demi Schuurs, are also publicly out, and it’s heartening to hope that while Stosur hangs up her racket, newly out players like Daria Kasatkina will have no shortage of support and solidarity from the growing LGBTQ+ community at all levels of tennis.

Looking ahead to her next chapter, Stosur hinted in her final post-match interview that she’ll continue working within the sport and building up future generations of players.

“I’ll still be around. I’m not worried about not being around tennis. And you know, I’ve joked with the girls here who train in Melbourne that I’ll probably be at the NTC (National Tennis Centre) in a couple of weeks wanting to have a hit with one of them. So, I’m still gonna love being around tennis. It’s been my life. I love it. And yeah, just in a different capacity.”