She was asked if the concept of retirement was now causing her less pain. In Toronto, shortly after her announcement, she broke down in tears on the post-match ceremony after losing to Belinda Bencic within the second round.
“I do feel different; I believe I used to be really emotional in Toronto and Cincinnati, and it was very difficult,” Williams said. “It’s extremely difficult still, because I absolutely love being on the market. The more tournaments I play, I feel just like the more I can belong on the market. That’s a tricky feeling to have and to depart knowing the more you do it, the more you’ll be able to shine. Nevertheless it’s time for me, , to evolve to the following thing.”
Much has modified in Ashe Stadium since Williams made her U.S. Open debut in 1997, playing doubles together with her older sister Venus. The court, once green, is now blue. The stadium, once fully exposed to the weather and swirling winds, now encompasses a retractable roof that has modified the acoustics and the airflow even when the roof stays open.
There are screens and more screens: on the partitions and within the hands of the fans. And as Williams approached the top of this first-round victory that nobody was taking as a right this 12 months, most of the spectators rose to their feet as she prepared to return Kovinic’s serve on match point, holding their phones aloft to capture the moment.
It was a rare, perhaps unprecedented scene — a head start on a standing ovation — and Williams delivered closure, ending off the 6-3, 6-3 victory after which celebrating with a victory jig before the beginning of the larger celebration — of her place in tennis and the broader culture. It was a surprise to Williams, who sat courtside in her chair as Gayle King and Billie Jean King took turns offering tributes.
“You touched our hearts and minds to be our authentic self,” Billie Jean King said. “To make use of our voices. To dream big. Thanks to your leadership and commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion and particularly for girls and ladies of color. Most of all, thanks for sharing your journey with each certainly one of us.”