Serena Williams’s Grand Slam singles profession will live to tell the tale for not less than one other match.
On one among her favorite stages, Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, beat Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, 6-3, 6-3, in front of a celebrity-packed capability crowd on an electrical opening night on the U.S. Open.
This win got here just a couple of weeks after she announced that she planned to step away from tennis after the U.S. Open to deal with having one other child and on her business interests, though she was not shy about showing ambivalence about her decision.
“I absolutely love being on the market,” Williams said after the win. “The more tournaments I play, the more I feel I can belong on the market.”
Assuming she follows through along with her plans to stop playing, Monday night’s win means the top of one of the crucial successful and influential careers in sports history won’t arrive until the second round of the U.S. Open, and even later. Williams can have a tougher test Wednesday against No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, whom she has never faced. But Kontaveit has struggled of late, especially after a bout with Covid earlier within the 12 months.
Throughout the match, and particularly in the ultimate games as Williams bulldozed across the road, there have been glimpses of the facility and athleticism that had made Williams a boundary-breaking force that modified each her sport and ladies’s athleticism.
And on a heavy, late-summer Recent York evening, on the court where she captured her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999, it was enough to topple Kovinic, the type of player Williams has rolled over in possibly an hour in so many early-round matches in so many other Grand Slams. Williams was shaky and rusty initially, double-faulting and netting easy ground strokes, but she got higher because the night wore on and ultimately dictated how the match was played and the way it finished.
It can have just been yet another first-round match that, if she had lost it, would have surprised few. Nobody had expected much from Williams coming into this tournament. Monday night’s match appeared to be as much of a present for the boldfaced names and everybody else at Arthur Ashe Stadium because it was a probability for Williams to blast some final serves and winners, regardless of what the numbers on the scoreboard said when it was over.
Queen Latifah was there, and so was President Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor, and Katie Couric, and Matt Damon, and Hugh Jackman, and Naomi Osaka, who just the opposite day had called Williams the most important force in the game, and that included the superstar male group of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Williams also plans to play within the doubles competition along with her sister Venus, herself a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, but Monday was all the time going to be Serena Williams’s valedictory, or the beginning of it, an evening that, win-or-lose, could be a celebration. Williams made sure to point out up for the party, and so did her daughter, Olympia, 4, who wore an identical outfit along with her hair in beads evoking a young Serena, and nearly stole the show.
Williams has endured a 27-year roller coaster stuffed with long stretches of near invincibility in addition to injury-plagued years that made it look like tonight may need occurred way back.
She has collected armfuls of championship trophies — and got here so near several more in the ultimate phase of her profession — and likewise endured the headline-grabbing controversies that followed her run-ins with tennis officials on the court where she played Monday night.
For Williams, who turns 41 in 4 weeks and is arguably the best player of all time, a loss to Kovinic, the Eightieth-ranked player on the earth, was not the best way she desired to wave goodbye to her singles profession.
She has been a shadow of her former self this summer, throughout the singles matches which can be serving as her coda after nearly a 12 months away from the sport she has loved and dedicated her life to. The impromptu farewell began in earnest at Wimbledon, made stops in Toronto and Ohio and now continues in Recent York on the U.S. Open for not less than yet another singles match, and a doubles match.
It was Tony Godsick, the longtime agent for Federer, one other champion struggling to determine what his goodbye should appear like, who said earlier this summer that going out gracefully doesn’t require lifting a championship trophy.
It means going out on one’s own terms, not with an injury, just like the torn hamstring that sent Williams off the court in tears at Wimbledon in 2021, but with a final probability to compete and soak within the roars from the gang.
“That atmosphere was loads,” she said.
She’s going to hear the fans not less than twice more this week.
Their roar began echoing through the stadium as Williams walked onto the court just before 7:30 p.m. following a two-minute tribute video. She wore a black bedazzled jacket and headband and a wrap that flowed from her waist to her ankles.
“Overwhelming,” she said of the noise. “I could feel it in my chest. And it was a extremely good feeling.”
They roared again as she walked to the middle of the court to affix the film director Spike Lee for the coin toss, they usually lifted her after two early double faults, as she saved break points in the primary game, after which as she broke Kovinic within the second with one among those patented forehand putaways from the front of the court. Williams pumped her fist and let the noise fall over Kovinic.
Kovinic settled in though, and two games later the match was tied. She wasn’t going anywhere, especially with Williams struggling to search out a rhythm along with her serve and netting easy forehands.
But Williams did what she has done for a really very long time. She sensed a gap, a moment of weakness in her opponent, and she or he pounced.
It happened midway through the primary set, with Kovinic serving to go up two games. Williams hit a wobbly backhand that looked prefer it was going long, but it surely caught the back of the baseline and the sting of the sideline, and Kovinic then double-faulted the sport away.
All even over again, Williams began winning the points she needed to. A 115-mile-an-hour ace got her to set point. After which one other cannon serve hit her goal down the middle of the court and Kovinic couldn’t get it back, letting the gang send up a roar as Williams squatted and pumped her arms. Arthur Ashe Stadium was hers over again.
Because the match wore on, it became the form of contest that Williams relishes, with two players banging balls from the center of the backcourt. Did Kovinic even realize as she sprayed forehands wide and deep and into the online that she’d fallen right into a classic Williams trap, abandoning the angles and spins which have won her matches before?
If she did, Williams had no intention of letting her out.
A couple of long rallies early within the second set had a gassed Williams going to the towel to catch her breath. However the more balls Williams hit, the higher she hit them. Each service game became just a little higher than the last one.
She began jumping into Kovinic’s second serves to her backhand, sending winners across the court. And within the fifth game of the second set, Kovinic sent one too many forehands long. Williams had broken her serve to go up 3-2 and moved inside shouting distance of the finish line. Later, a rolling backhand winner down the road got her to inside a game of the victory. She raised her left fist and the roars echoed over again.
Three points later, they stood for match point, a backhand into the online, and Williams was high-stepping and pirouetting like she did within the old days.
Now she is going to get Kontaveit, as shaky a No. 2 seed as there has ever been.
“It’s like Serena 2.0,” Williams said of the life that awaits her when that is all done. That may wait for now. This party rolls on.