New York celebrated Serena Williams’ career in raucous fashion Monday night but the party wasn’t over thanks to her first-round victory over Danka Kovinich.
Williams announced earlier this month that the US Open would likely be her last, ending a 27-year career that saw her overtake tennis.
But the 40-year-old is first and foremost a formidable contender and has secured at least one more night under the spotlight with a 6-3 6-3 victory, with the Estonian second seed. Annette Kontaveit She is now waiting in the wings after beating Jacqueline Christian 6-3, 6-0.
A record crowd came to honor Williams and the noise got louder and louder as Queen Latifah performed six singles titles for Williams at Flushing Meadows.
Then the same woman came out, dressed in dresses and shoes studded with diamonds, crystals, and gold.
“I think when I left, the reception was really overwhelming,” she later said.
“It was loud and I could feel it in my chest. It was a really good feeling. It’s a feeling I will never forget. It means a lot to me.”
Williams has won only one singles match since the French Open last spring, but Kovenic hasn’t been in great shape either, losing her previous five matches.
The nerves were pretty clear from both, particularly in the form of early double faults, but with a wall of noise saluting every Williams winner, she started giving the audience what they wanted.
She was definitely moving better than she did in the loss to Emma Radocano in Cincinnati earlier this month, and her serve and groundstrokes increased as the match went on.
The second set, while not a Williams classic, was an indication that this friendly lap may still have some way to go in a game with Kontaveit on Wednesday.
In Cincinnati, Williams walked right off the field, avoiding a planned celebration, but here she was able to embrace the moment as a post-game gala saw her revered by Billie Jean King and Oprah Winfrey.
“I feel different,” she said.
“I think I was really emotional in Toronto and Cincinnati. It was really hard. I wouldn’t say it’s not hard now. It’s still very difficult because I love being there.
“The more tournaments I play, the more I feel like I can belong there. That’s a tough feeling, and I let go of the knowledge, the more I do it, the more I can shine.
“But it’s time for me to evolve to the next thing. I think it’s important because there are so many other things I want to do.”
The 40-year-old has kept a low profile since announcing her decision in a Vogue article earlier this month, while Williams’ teammates, particularly those inspired directly in her footsteps, queued up.
venerate her legacy.
“I will soon have plenty of time to do all of that,” she added.
“I’m so grateful they saw it. I can see it too, but I don’t think about it too much. I’m still here at the moment, just enjoying it.”
“I’m so grateful that I could have this effect. I never thought I would ever have this effect. I was just a girl trying to play tennis at a time when I can develop that influence and be a voice.”
Williams will also play in doubles with Sister Venus, and a mystery to the end, he refused to shut the door completely on more guise.
“You were pretty vague about that, weren’t you,” she said. “I’ll keep it a mystery because you never know.”
Elsewhere, last year’s summer Laila Fernandezwho enjoyed an unusual race in New York, reached the second round with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Ocean Dowden.