New York celebrated the career of Serena Williams in raucous fashion on Monday night, but the party is not over thanks to her first-round victory against Danka Kovinic.
Williams announced earlier this month that the US Open would very likely be her last tournament, bringing an end to a 27-year career that has seen her transcend tennis.
But the 40-year-old is first and foremost a tremendous competitor and she ensured at least one more night under the lights with a 6-3 6-3 triumph, with Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit now waiting in the wings after she breezed past Jaqueline Cristian 6-3 6-0.
Williams will also play doubles with sister Venus and, an enigma to the end, refused to completely shut the door on further appearances.
“I’ve been pretty vague about it, right,” she said. “I’m going to stay vague because you never know.”
A record crowd had come to honour Williams and the noise grew louder and louder as a montage voiced by Queen Latifah played of Williams’ six singles titles at Flushing Meadows.
Then out came the woman herself, dressed, as only she could be, in a self-designed gown and shoes featuring diamonds, crystals and gold.
“I think when I walked out, the reception was really overwhelming,” she said later.
“It was loud and I could feel it in my chest. It was a really good feeling. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget. That meant a lot to me.”
Williams had won just one singles match since the French Open last spring, but Kovinic has not been in good form either, losing her previous five matches.
Nerves were very evident from both, particularly in the form of early double faults, but, with a wall of noise greeting every Williams winner, she began to give the crowd what they wanted.
She was certainly moving better than she had in defeat by Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati earlier this month, and her serve and groundstrokes increased in penetration as the match wore on.
The second set, while not vintage Williams, was an indication that this valedictory lap may yet have some way to go as she set up a clash with Kontaveit today.
In Cincinnati, Williams had walked straight off court, eschewing the celebration planned for her, but here she was able to embrace the moment as a post-match ceremony saw her venerated by Billie Jean King and Oprah Winfrey. – Sky Sports