Serena Williams puts off retirement with first-round win at US Open

Serena Williams puts off retirement with first-round win at US Open
Serena Williams will meet Estonia's Anett Konteveit in the second round of the US Open after Monday's win. (Photo: EPA-EFE / CJ Gunther)

Serena Williams’s final Grand Slam tournament will last until at least Wednesday when she takes on world No 2 Anett Kontaveit.

Serena Williams signalled she is not quite ready for retirement, advancing to the second round of the US Open on Monday with a scrappy 6-3 6-3 win over Danka Kovinić.

The victory over the 80th ranked Kovinić, just her second this year, will be a confidence boost for Williams, but the path to a record-equalling 24th  Grand Slam now gets treacherous.

Waiting in the wings is Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit, who breezed past Jaqueline Cristian 6-3 6-0.

Williams indicated her intention to retire in a Vogue article in early August, saying she was “evolving away from tennis” but never confirming the US Open as her final event. 

Serena Williams thanks the crowd of 23,500 for their support after winning her US Open first-round match against Danka Kovinić. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jason Szenes)

For tennis fans, however, the message was clear: the US Open would be where she would take her final bow.

Could there be an encore? 

The former world No 1 has played coy, even refusing to rule out 2023’s Australian Open.

But in a strange post-match ceremony celebrating her career, which was not yet finished, Williams gave the clearest sign yet that the US Open will indeed be her last tournament and expanded on that later in her press conference.

“It’s extremely difficult still because I absolutely love being out there,” said Williams. “The more tournaments I play, I feel like the more I can belong out there.

“But it’s time for me, you know, to evolve to the next thing.”

Pressed on whether the US Open was definitely her last event, Williams again stepped back from the brink.

“I’ve been pretty vague about it, right,” smiled Williams. “I’m going to stay vague because you never know.”

A montage of Williams’s career played before she appeared on court, and it left the door open a crack for a return some day – “if you ever decide to return, Queen, your throne will be waiting”, the video concluded.

A defiant Williams, however, made it clear she was not giving up that throne just yet.

Special energy

There is always excitement on opening night at Flushing Meadows but on Monday the teeming stadium crackled with a special energy from the moment Williams appeared on court decked out in a shimmering black robe and specially designed diamond-encrusted shoes.

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The outfit may have sparkled more than the 40-year-old American’s play, but it did not matter to a jam-packed Arthur Ashe Stadium as Williams’s fighting edge remained razor sharp even if her serve and ground strokes were not.

“It’s s0 important to give your all,” Williams told the adoring crowd. “I’ve been down and out so many times, in the public eye. I just want people to be inspired by my story.

“I’m from Compton, California… and I made it.”

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Certainly, there was no more fitting place to bring the curtain down on one of tennis’ most phenomenal careers than in a city that has been in her corner from the very beginning, fuelling runs to six US Open crowns.

The magnitude of the moment was not lost on the 23,000 fans, including, former US president Bill Clinton, designer Vera Wang, director Spike Lee and others who packed into Arthur Ashe not expecting to see greatness but to celebrate it.

Having been world No 1 for 319 weeks, Williams arrived in New York ranked below 600 and unseeded.

At 40, Serena Williams still packs a punch. This is one of her ripping forehands on her way to a 6-3 6-3 win over Dana Kovinić. (Photo: EPA-EFE / CJ Gunther)

Even with Williams far from her best, the odds were stacked against the 27-year-old from Montenegro.

Playing in her 21st US Open, Williams has never lost in the first round and her victory over Kovinić was her 106th at Flushing Meadows.

While Kovinić has been enjoying the best Grand Slam season of her career, reaching the third round of both the Australian and French Open, she had not won a single match since Roland Garros.

As play got under way it was Williams showing signs of nerves, piling up the double faults as Kovinić got in front 3-2.

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But Williams, as she has done so many times, lifted her game when she needed to, sweeping the next four games to snatch the first set.

Now in charge, Williams would not let it slip away in the second set, breaking to go up 3-2, and with match point and the crowd on its feet, she danced in delight as Kovinić’s return hit the net.

Kontaveit excited

Kontaveit is guaranteed a frenzied atmosphere against Williams, but rather than being nervous about it, the second-seeded Estonian said she cannot wait for the “unique experience”.

Flushing Meadows is expected to be boisterous on Wednesday, with the same level of energy in the stands when Williams meets Kontaveit.

Serena Williams and Danka Kovinić at the net after their first-round match at the US Open. (Photo: EPA-EFE / CJ Gunther)

“I’m really excited. I was really rooting for her to win today,” Kontaveit told reporters after her 6-3 6-0 victory over Romania’s Jaqueline Cristian. “I’ve never played against her. I mean, this is the last chance. Better late than never.

“I think the atmosphere is going to be amazing. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be one of those matches this year that… I just have no pressure on me. I’ll just get to enjoy and play as good as I can on the day.”

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The match could be the final singles outing for Williams and Kontaveit promised to give her best against the “greatest player of all time”.

“I just remember her always fighting, her always fist pumping, always being so intense on the court, which I think is great. The matches are so competitive. She’s just always there. She’s always fighting. She’s always giving 100%,” she added.

“I’m just going to take it as a real unique experience. I’m not sure if I’ll ever experience something like this again.” Reuters/DM


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