Serena Williams not done yet; wins 1st match at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) — They came from far and wide for Serena – no last name required, befitting someone who is as much an icon as a superstar athlete – to watch her practice and play and, as it turned out, win a match at the US Open on Monday nightwho came out in record numbers to fill Arthur Ashe Stadium and scream and applaud and pump their fists with her.

Serena Williams isn’t ready to say goodbye yet. Her fans clearly aren’t either. And she heard them loud and clear.

In her first game at what is expected to be the last US Open – and final tournament – of her remarkable playing careereven as she insists she won’t quite say it, Williams overcame a shaky start to overpower Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-3 in an atmosphere more like a festival than a goodbye.

Which memory will stay with her most of the evening?

“When I walked out, the reception was really overwhelming. It was loud and I felt it in my chest. It was a really good feeling,” said the owner of six US Open championships and 23 Grand Slam titles overall, numbers unsurpassed by any other player in the sport’s professional era.

“It’s a feeling I’ll never forget,” she added. “Yes, that meant a lot to me.”

This opening outing against Kovinic, a 27-year-old from Montenegro in 80th place, turned out to be an event with a capital ‘E’. Spike Lee took part in the toss for the game. Former President Bill Clinton sat in the stands. For example, Mike Tyson and Martina Navratilova sat next to each other. And with Mom and Dad, Williams’ daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Thursday, had white beads in her hair, just like Mom did when she first won the US Open at age 17 in 1999.

Now 40, Williams told the world via an essay for Vogue three weeks ago that she was ready to focus on having a second child and her venture capital business.

Asked after her win Monday whether this will definitely be her last tournament, Williams replied with a knowing smile: “Yeah, I’ve been pretty vague about it, haven’t I?”

Then she added, “I’m staying vague because you never know.”

The evening session drew 29,000 people, a highlight for the tournament – over 23,000 were in Ashe; thousands more watched on a video screen outside the arena – and the place was just as loud as ever. Certainly louder than any other first-lap match in memory.

Both players called the decibel level “crazy.” Kovinic said she couldn’t hear the ball coming off Williams’ racket strings—or even her own strings.

Early on, Williams was not at her best. Maybe it was the meaning of the moment. There were double faults. Other missed strokes, missed opportunities. She led 2-0, but then quickly trailed 3-2. Then, suddenly, Williams looked a lot like the champion she has been for decades and less like the player who came into this game with a 1-3 record since returning to action in late June after nearly a year off the tour.

“Right now, honestly, everything is a bonus for me, I think,” Williams said. “It’s good that I was able to get this under my belt. … I don’t even think about that. I only think about this moment. I think it’s good for me to live in the moment now.”

She rolled through the end of that opening set, finishing it off with a serve winner to which she responded with clenched fists and her signature cry of “Come on!” That was met with thunderous cheers and applause – just like the end of the 1 hour 40 minute game, as if another trophy had been earned.

Instead, there is much more work to be done. Williams will play in the second round of the singles against the number 2 seeded Anett Kontveit from Estonia on Wednesday. And there are doubles too: Williams and her sister, Venus, compete in that competition together, with their first game scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday.

“Keep supporting me,” Williams told the spectators, “as long as I’m here.”

They certainly will. They were there to honor her and show appreciation for what she has done on and off the pitch. After seeing the win over Kovinic, the spectators held up blue, white or red placards that were distributed near their seats to spell “We (Heart) Serena”.

After Kovinic was introduced simply by name and even made it clear to her what an afterthought she was on this balmy evening, Williams’ entrance was preceded by a tribute video narrated by Queen Latifah, who dubbed the American the “Queen of Queens.” The arena announcer called Williams “the greatest of all time” and said: “This US Open marks the final chapter of her storied tennis history.”

She means a lot to many people. As a tennis player. Like a woman. As an African American. As a mother. As a business woman.

“When she started, female athletes were not recognized. She’s done so much,” said Quintella Thorn, a 68-year-old from Columbus, Georgia, who made her eighth trip to the US Open. “And now she’s…”

“Evolve,” interrupted Thorn’s girlfriend Cora Monroe, 72, of Shreveport, Louisiana, using the word Williams as she preferred to “retire.”

That’s why Monday was more important than the usual day 1 at a big tournament. And why the daily program didn’t mention any other of the dozen athletes in action, instead showing a montage of six images of Williams holding her six US Open trophies above the caption: “Serena Williams, A Legacy of Greatness.” And why there was a sense of less importance for matches with victories for other elite players, such as former US Open champions Bianca Andreescu, Andy Murray and Daniil Medvedev, or French Open finalist Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old American.

After her own 6-2, 6-3 win over Leolia Jeanjean earlier in the day, Gauff was looking forward to sitting in Ashe herself to watch Williams, someone she believes inspired her to play tennis. Gauff’s original plan was to tune into TV, but then she decided this was too important to miss.

“Everyone will be on her side. I’m going to encourage her,’ said Gauff. “It’s probably going to be one of the most electric matches ever to take place in tennis.”

Met billing.

Now there’s more to come for Williams and her supporters.

____

More AP coverage of US Open tennis: en


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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