Serena Williams showed an adoring US Open crowd that she is not finished just yet with victory over Danka Kovinic to extend her farewell tour.
Williams announced earlier this month that this tournament would very likely be her last, bringing an end to a 27-year career that has seen her transcend tennis.
But Williams is first and foremost a tremendous competitor and she ensured at least one more night under the lights with a 6-3 6-3 triumph.
The crowd had come to worship their queen and the noise grew louder and louder as a montage voiced by Queen Latifah played of Williams’ six singles titles at Flushing Meadows.
Then out came the woman herself, dressed, as only she could be, in a self-designed gown and shoes featuring diamonds, crystals and gold.
The diamonds in her hair twinkled in the lights while among her family and friends sat courtside was four-year-old daughter Olympia wearing a matching outfit and beads in her hair like the ones her mother sported for her maiden triumph 23 years ago.
It was all a little unfair on Kovinic, who had walked onto court to polite applause some minutes earlier, busying herself with her pre-match routines as the noise swept around her.
Director Spike Lee, a regular attendee at the tournament, performed the coin toss before both players tried to compose themselves and focus on what was demonstrably no ordinary tennis match.
Williams had won just one singles match since the French Open last spring but Kovinic has not been in good form either, losing her previous five matches.
Nerves were very evident from both, particularly in the form of early double faults, but, with a wall of noise greeting every Williams winner, she began to give the crowd what they wanted.
She was certainly moving better than she had in defeat by Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati earlier this month, and her serve and groundstrokes increased in penetration as the match wore on.
The second set, while not vintage Williams, was an indication that this valedictory lap may yet have some way to go as she set up a clash with second seed Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday.
Despite the successful outcome, the match ended with an on-court ceremony featuring Billie Jean King and, on screen, Oprah Winfrey.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 30, 2022
Addressing the crowd, Williams said: “First of all, thanks, I didn’t expect any of this. I feel so comfortable on this court. When I step out onto the court I just want to do the best I can. The crowd was crazy. They really helped pull me through. I was really pumped, I was like, ‘Yes, I got this’.”
The 40-year-old has kept a low profile since announced she was “evolving away from tennis” in an essay in Vogue earlier this month.
“It’s been such a hard decision because I think, when you’re passionate about something and you love something, it’s always hard to walk away,” she said on Monday. “I’ve been trying to decide for a little while what to do.
“I was just like, ‘I think now’s the time’. There’s other chapters in life. I really wanted to spend more time at home. It’s like Serena 2.0.
— Billie Jean King Cup (@BJKCup) August 30, 2022
“I look forward to waking up and just being, ‘I don’t have to run to the court today’. I look forward to being a mum.”
Williams’ fellow players, particularly those she has directly inspired to follow in her footsteps, have been queuing up to venerate her legacy.
As for the woman herself, she said simply: “It’s so important to give your all. No matter how many obstacles you face – I’ve been down and out so many times. I just want people to be inspired by my story. I’m from Compton, California and I made it.”