Serena Williams has extended her suspected farewell tour by at least two more days.
The 23-time singles champion overcame early nerves and a failed serve to win 6-3, 6-3 against Danka Kovinić in their US Open first-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is expected to be the her last tournament. brilliant 27-year professional career on a winning note.
Williams, who announced her plans to retire earlier this month, entered Monday night’s main attraction ranked 605th in the world, winning one singles match in 450 days. But the American star came through with her record 107th tournament win, winning six times before a sold-out crowd of more than 23,000 spectators crackling with the atmosphere of a big-ticket final – with thousands more watching on a giant screen. from Fonteinplein outside the stadium.
“When I walked out, the reception was really overwhelming,” Williams said afterwards. “It was loud and I felt it in my chest. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
Williams, who turns 41 next month, faced constant pressure on her serve from the get-go, committing five double faults in her first three service games and taking break points in each of them. But she didn’t find it until the later stages of the first set, rattling 11 straights, capped by a love break for 5-3 before serving the opener in 55 minutes.
The American’s service only improved after that and Kovinić, the 27-year-old from Montenegro in 80th place, could not match her level. When her opponent backhanded from the baseline at match point after 1 hour 40 minutes, Williams raised her arms to a deafening roar of applause.
The road doesn’t get any easier from here. Williams advances to number 2 seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in a second round match on Wednesday. She has also entered doubles with her older sister, Venus, with their opening round match scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday.
Williams’ prospects in the winter of her career were in a state of uncertainty during her 12 months away from the tour between last year’s first round losses and this year’s Wimbledon. But her compromised form has come under a harsh glare in the three weeks since announcing her “evolution” away from tennis in a first-person essay featured in the September issue of Vogue: a run that scored a 6-2, 6 -4 loss to Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in Toronto, followed immediately by a 6-4, 6-0 thrashing against Emma Raducanu’s hands in Cincinnati.
But Williams rolled back the years in front of an adoring audience on her return to Flushing Meadows. Venus won the family’s maiden grand slam title in 1999, before receiving a congratulatory phone call from US President Bill Clinton, who took over Monday’s proceedings from court.
The possible last outing of Williams’ career clouded virtually every other field action on the first day in Queens. After a 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 player entrance to a match in the first round.
Spike Lee flipped the coins and dozens of celebrities lined the crowd, including Martina Navratilova and Mike Tyson, sitting side by side in the president’s box at the courthouse. The unusual pomp and circumstance sparked early nerves on both sides of the net, but it was Williams who settled first before showing a champion’s final kick.
After that, Williams remained coy when she was pressed on the case.
“Yeah, I’ve been pretty vague about it, haven’t I?” she said with a smile. “I’m staying vague, because you never know.”