Serena Williams has extended her presumed farewell tour by at least two more days.
The 23-time major singles champion overcame early nerves and a missed serve to win Danka Kovinić 6-3, 6-3 in her US Open first-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, setting what is expected to be the last tournament of her shining 27th -year professional career on the road to success.
williams who announced her resignation Earlier this month, he entered Monday night’s headline attraction and was ranked 605th in the world after winning a singles game in 450 days. But the American star prevailed with her record 107th victory at the tournament, which she has won six times, in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 23,000 sizzling with the atmosphere of a grand final – with thousands more enjoying a huge Screen watching Brunnenplatz outside the stadium.
“When I walked out, the reception was really amazing,” Williams said afterwards. “It was loud and I could feel it in my chest. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
Williams, who turns 41 next month, was under constant pressure on her serve from the start, hitting five double faults in her first three service games and facing break points in each of them. But she found progress in the later stages of the first set, scoring 11 straight points, topped by a love break for 5-3 before leading the opener in 55 minutes.
From there, the American’s serve only improved and Kovinić, the 27-year-old from Montenegro in 80th, couldn’t match her level. When her opponent hit a backhand from baseline to match point after 1 hour and 40 minutes, Williams raised her arms in the air to deafening applause.
The path doesn’t get any easier from here. Williams meets number 2 Estonian Anett Kontaveit in the second round on Wednesday. She has also entered doubles with her older sister Venus, whose opening round match is scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday.
Williams’ prospects for the winter of her career have been in limbo during her 12-month absence from the Tour between last year’s first-round losses and this year’s Wimbledon. But her compromised form has drawn harsh spotlight in the three weeks since she announced her “evolution” away from tennis in a first-person essay that appeared in Vogue’s September issue: a run that went 6-2 , included a 6-4 loss to Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in Toronto, immediately followed by a 6-4, 6-0 win over Emma Raducanu’s hands in Cincinnati.
But Williams rolled back the years in front of an enthusiastic audience as she returned to Flushing Meadows, moving the court better than she had in years and raising her level at pressure points to secure at least one more match on the same court she was on beat Venus to the family’s first Grand Slam title in 1999 before taking a congratulatory call from US President Bill Clinton, who took over the court hearing on Monday.
The potential final appearance of William’s career eclipsed pretty much all other action on the ground on the first day in Queens. After a tribute video narrated by Queen Latifah played at the stadium, Williams emerged from the tunnel to Kanye West’s Diamonds From Sierra Leone in a scene more reminiscent of a boxer’s ringwalk than a traditional first-round player entrance.
Spike Lee handled the coin toss and dozens of celebrities lined the crowd, including Martina Navratilova and Mike Tyson, who sat side by side in the President’s box. The unusual pomp caused early nervousness on both sides of the net, but it was Williams who warmed up first before showing off a champion’s finishing kick.
After that, Williams, who has strongly hinted but not definitively stated that this year’s US Open will be her last tournament, remained reticent in pressing the matter.
“Yeah, I was being pretty vague about that, wasn’t I?” she said with a smile. “I’ll be vague because you never know.”