SShe was more annoyed by the double-faulting he did than she wanted. Her 25 unforced errors weren’t pretty. In one instance of her career, she played lengthy, exhausting games.
Serena Williams, however, will be leaving the U.S. Open with at most one win.
Feeding off the energy of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday night in New York City, Williams exhibited plenty of her signature fire—a fist pump here, a shout of “come on!” there. Williams’ dominance was still evident: she took out Danka Kovinic from Montenegro, winning the eight remaining points.
Even though it was an easy win, the match had all of the excitement of a final. After this last Open run, Williams has announced that she is walking away from tennis—and that includes competing in doubles with her sister Venus.
Monday saw the U.S. Open’s second largest single-day attendance, at 71,332 total spectators in the evening and day sessions. However, the latter session set an opening night record for 29,402, Williams being the main draw. Fans held up placards reading “We ♥️ Serena” on all sides of the stadium.
“When I walked out, the reception was really overwhelming. It was loud and I could feel it in my chest,” said Williams. “It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
After the match, Australians Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis had to wait for their duel to begin—one that Kyrgios would win in straight sets—as the U.S. Open threw a surprise tribute for Williams on center court. Gayle King was the host. Oprah Winfrey presented a video. Billie Jean King even spoke a few words about the time when they first met in 1988. Serena was just six years old at that point. “Her serve is by far the most beautiful serve in the history of our sport,” King said, to the delight of the crowd. “And guess what? You’re just beginning!”
Continue reading: Serena Williams’s Gift to the World
Williams was jittery from the beginning. A first round exit wouldn’t have damaged her legacy. But no one in the celebrity-laden crowd—Queen Latifah, Gladys Knight, Hugh Jackman, and Mike Tyson were among those in the seats—wanted to see that.
In the first game, she failed to serve five times straight and held. Kovinic had to break her serve two times in order to make it 3-2. Williams lost a double-break point to Kovinic, who regained the lead. Williams played a second soft serve to win, to get things back on track to zero. Kovinic was then double-faulted twice, to level the match at 3-3. Williams, back on serve, didn’t lose a point the rest of the set.
After she finished off that first set with two aces and serve up the middle—in the 16th point of a back-and-forth game—that Kovnic lofted into the net, Williams double pumped her fists. It was an ear-splitting roar from the crowd.
Williams’ second set was more fluid. When Kovinic’s backhand hit the net, she jumped up and clapped in joy.
Williams had enough wins with angular shots to defeat Kovinic. But she’ll need much more magic against a tougher opponent, second-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, on Wednesday. She didn’t want to dwell on the difficulties ahead.
“At this point, honestly, everything is a bonus for me,” Williams said. “It’s good that I was able to get this under my belt. I’m just not even thinking about that. I’m just thinking about this moment. I think it’s good for me just to live in the moment now.”
She’s certainly earned that.
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