It was a farewell party where nobody was yet ready to say goodbye. So Serena Williams is not leaving the US Open just yet and there will be at least one more last dance. And all the fans who came on a pilgrimage to Flushing Meadows to say they were there on her final night will have to come back again on Wednesday after an emotional, crowd-fuelled victory tonight.
World No.605 Williams, who announced she will be evolving away from tennis after this event, won only her second match since last year’s French Open by beating world No.80 Danka Kovinic 6-3 6-3.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles winner sets up a second round tie with No.2 seed Anett Kontaveit. Another win seems unlikely – but so did qualifier Emma Raducanu winning the title here last year without dropping a set.
The Serena Williams story is not written yet. From the singing of the US national anthem to her familiar victory pirouette at the end, it was a fun, unforgettable night. The stars came out in the Arthur Ashe Stadium with Bill Clinton, Gladys Knight, Anna Wintour, Mike Tyson, Lindsey Vonn and Queen Latifah – wearing a GOAT sweatshirt – all in the crowd. Spike Lee even made it on court for the coin toss.
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It was also the 25th anniversary of the opening of the biggest tennis stadium in the world named after the first black man to win the US Open. The capacity crowd was whipped into a frenzy by a video montage of past winners on the court with Williams’ six victories as the climax.
After another Queen Latifah-narrated montage where she was hailed as the “Queen of Queens”, she finally walked out in a sparkly black top as the stadium announcer hailed her as “the greatest of all time”.
It did not always look like that during a rollercoaster first set. The American superstar served four double faults in her first two service games and faced break points in her first three. She broke to lead 2-0 with a swing volley winner followed by a fist pump to bring the crowd to its feet. Every point won met with deafening cheers.
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Kovinic beat Emma Raducanu to reach the third round of the Australian Open in January but had not won a match since the French Open.
But after a nervous start where she seemed overwhelmed by the atmosphere , the Montenegrin won the next three games before Williams found her timing and her feet and started to move with more purpose. From 2-3 down, she won the next four games and took thes second set in 55 minutes after saving four break points at 5-3. She celebrated with a double fist pump.
Williams fed on the energy and the adrenaline and there was no stopping her momentum in the second set. And she took her first match point when Konvinic slapped another backhand into the net.