Williams starts her US Open bye with a win
|Place: Flushing Meadows, New York Dates: August 29-September 11|
|Coverage: Daily radio commentary on BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app, with selected live text commentary and match reports on the website and app|
Serena Williams extended her US Open farewell with an opening victory on an entertaining night of hope and celebration in New York.
Williams, who is retiring after the tournament, won 6-3, 6-3 against Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic.
A crowd of nearly 25,000 in Arthur Ashe Stadium wanted their idol and she responded in typical fashion.
Williams, 40, will play Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit in the second round on Wednesday.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, who is one shy of Australia’s Margaret Court’s all-time record, also plays in doubles alongside older sister Venus, adding another exciting element to what she hopes will be be a long goodbye this fortnight.
His first task was to beat Kovinic, ranked 80th in the world, and there was a thunderous roar when he won the first of three match points to ensure his singles career was not yet over .
Williams leapt to the spot as Kovinic’s return hit the net, then turned to center court before blowing kisses to her adoring fans.
Williams thrills the crowd on the night of celebration
Williams has long been more than just a tennis player, and it was a sign of her status – as an American icon and one of the world’s most recognized sports stars – that she announced her retirement in a rehearsal for the Vogue fashion magazine.
Although the former world number one didn’t use the word retirement herself, preferring to say she was “evolving away” from the sport, there’s no mistaking her intention to end her glittering career this fortnight at home his
Fittingly, for what could have been his last match, it was a night of celebrity and glamour.
Unsurprisingly, Williams arrived on the court to a rapturous reception, moments after the stadium watched a video montage celebrating what she has achieved as a player and as a person.
Kovinic had already left the court, leaving her with a long – and what must have been nervous – wait by her chair.
Film director Spike Lee, who called Williams his “little sister” in a video released earlier Monday, took part in the coin raffle, while Vogue editor Anna Wintour, another close personal friend, was sitting in her support box behind the player’s family.
Other famous faces picked up by the stadium’s cameras include former US President Bill Clinton, soul singer Gladys Knight, boxer Mike Tyson and model Bella Hadid.
Williams’ daughter Olympia, wearing white beads in her hair in tribute to her mother’s style when she won the 1999 US Open, sat in the front row, next to her father Alexis and in front of grandmother Oracene.
The whole family rose to its feet as Williams scored a victory that will live on in the memory of those who saw it.
But it wasn’t over yet. Television host Gayle King took to the court to lead another celebration, first with Billie Jean King, another trailblazing American tennis legend, who paid a warm tribute, and then Williams herself.
“I didn’t expect any of this,” Williams said. “I always have to do my best. I’ve always felt very comfortable here.
“People were crazy! It really helped me get going. It really moved me. I thought ‘I get it.'”
How far can Williams go?
After all the fanfare, the serious business of tennis began and Williams showed all her competitive nature in a match that lacked quality in most parts.
Both players looked overwhelmed by the occasion, producing plenty of double faults and unforced errors in a nerve-wracking first set, before Williams finally took control.
There had been doubts about what condition she would be in, having struggled with a knee injury before being beaten by British number one Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati.
Williams, now ranked 413 in the world, got off to a flying start as she raced to a 2-0 lead before Kovinic fought back for a 3-2 lead to dampen Ashe’s mood.
But the American won the last four games to take the first set and spark more jubilant scenes.
The second set started ominously with Kovinic hitting another double fault and although she recovered to hold, Williams continued to press her serve.
Once Williams broke for a 3-2 lead, she didn’t feel like she would relinquish the lead. As she cruised to victory, the veteran was riding well, hitting well and showing plenty of quality.
Now there will be another night of intrigue when she faces Kontaveit.
The Estonian is ranked second in the world, and while she hasn’t lived up to that status, losing to Williams would send seismic shockwaves throughout the sport.
It would also raise the hopes of some American fans who dream, more out of emotional nostalgia than reasoned judgment, that their idol can somehow win this 24th major and make a spectacular run at matching Court’s all-time record.