Serena Williams has extended her supposed farewell tour by at least two more days.
The 23-times main singles champion battled early nerves and an unsuccessful serve to win 6-3 6-3 over Danka Kovinic in her first-round match at the US Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium, to launch what is expected to be her last tournament. A 27-year professional career sparkled on a winning note.
Williams, from She announced her retirement plans Earlier this month, the main attraction title entered Monday night at number 605 in the world and won one singles match in 450 days. But the American star came with her record 107th win in the tournament she won six times before a crowd of more than 23,000 spectators lost the atmosphere of an expensive final – with thousands more watching on a giant screen from the fountain square outside the stadium.
“When I came out, the reception was really overwhelming,” Williams said afterwards. The sound was so loud I could feel it in my chest. It’s a feeling I will never forget.”
Williams, who turns 41 next month, has faced constant pressure on her serve from the start, making five double faults in her first three service games and facing break points in each. But she found a huge leap in the late stages of the first set, scoring 11 consecutive points that culminated in a 5-3 break before serving her opener at 55 minutes.
Only the American’s serve improved from there, and the 27-year-old from Montenegro at number 80 couldn’t match her level. When her opponent hit a baseline backhand on match point 1 hour and 40 minutes later, Williams raised her arms high to deafening applause.
The path is not easier from here. Williams will face second seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the second round match on Wednesday. She has also been in doubles with her older sister Venus, with their opening match scheduled for either Wednesday or Thursday.
Williams’ prospects in the winter of her career were in limbo in the 12 months she spent on the tour between her first-round losses last year and Wimbledon this year. But her compromised form has come under heavy attack in the three weeks since she announced her “evolution” away from tennis in a first-person article published in the September issue of Vogue: A tour that included a 6-2, 6-4 defeat to Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic. In Toronto, it was immediately followed up 6-4, 6-0 by Emma Raducano in Cincinnati.
But Williams backed away from previous years before a beloved crowd on her return to Flushing Meadows, moving the field better than she had in years and raising her bar on pressure points, to ensure herself at least another match on the same court where she beat her. Venus won the family’s Grand Slam title in 1999 before receiving a congratulatory phone call from US President Bill Clinton, who took Monday’s proceedings off the field.
The potential final end to Williams’ professional career has obscured any further action across the courts on day one in Queens. After a tribute video narrated by Queen Latifah was shown inside the stadium, Williams exited Kanye West’s Diamonds from Sierra Leone tunnel in a scene more like a boxer’s lane than a traditional player entering a first-round match.
Spike Lee handled the coin and dozens of celebrities scattered into the crowd including Martina Navratilova and Mike Tyson, who sat next to each other in the stadium-side president’s chest. The unfamiliar pomp created early tension on both sides of the net, but it was Williams who settled in first before showing the champion’s final kick.
After that, Williams, who has strongly hinted that this year’s US Open would be this year’s US Open final, remained shy when pressed on the matter.
“Yeah, you were pretty vague about that, right?” She said with a smile. “I’ll keep it a mystery because you never know.”
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