The Serena Williams swansong has yet to be sung as the tennis legend claimed a 6-3 6-4 win over World No. 80 Danka Kovinic.
After a scrappy start, Williams played some vintage tennis to ensure her career goes for another match.
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The result sets up a second round clash with Estonian World No. 2 Anett Kontaveit and more wild scenes as the US public surges to get a final look at the American legend.
After a glittering 27-year professional career in which she became one of the greatest players of all time, Williams entered the tournament preparing to bid farewell to tennis at the major where it all began.
The 40-year-old sporting icon ended the guessing game surrounding her future earlier this month by revealing that the “countdown” to her retirement had started, with her final Grand Slam appearance expected at the US Open in New York starting on Monday.
“There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction,” Williams wrote. “That time is always hard when you love something so much.”
But it’s not goodbye yet as Williams sealed the victory at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in front of a deafening crowd.
Williams said she didn’t expect the tributes and the reaction to her retirement, calling the crowd “crazy”.
“When I step out on the court, I just want to do the best that I can do on that particular day,” she said.
“It’s been such a hard decision (retirement). I think when you’re passionate about something and love something so much, it’s always hard to walk away. Sometimes I think it’s harder to walk away than not and that’s been the case for me.”
Williams reiterated it was “an evolution” and that other chapters await.
It was a solid performance from Williams, who got off to a stunning start, bouncing back from 15-40 in the first game to hold her serve, before breaking Kovinic to go up 2-0.
The 40-year-old was struggling with her serve however, making four double faults within her first two service games and serving just 31 per cent of her first serves as Kovinic broke straight back.
The adrenaline of the massive crowd appeared to wear off for Serena as Kovinic held her served and claimed a second break to make it 3-2.
But the match was an absolute rollercoaster — and not just of emotions.
Suddenly Kovinic began to make mistakes, allowing Williams to break twice and take a 5-3 lead as the Montenegrin’s serve deserted her.
Serena served the first set out 6-3 after an epic final game as Williams snatched the lead in just under an hour.
The second set started with early holds before Williams broke in the fifth game before holding serve to take a commanding 4-2 lead.
Williams then bullied her way to the win, holding her serve and then breaking Kovinic to love to seal the victory and continue her career.
World loses it as Olympia steals Serena’s show
The sporting world paid a gushing tribute to Williams before the match as the legend made a stunning entrance onto the court.
But while Serena’s entry was something special, her nearly five-year-old daughter Olympia proved to be the real star of the show.
Sporting the braids which were nearly the trademark look of the Williams sisters’ early career, Olympia won over the hearts of the world which was already going through plenty of emotions.
Pandemonium ahead of Serena Swansong
Williams has already shown she’s still arguably tennis’ biggest drawcard in New York as fans flock to get their final look at the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Fans even ignored the live action just to get a glimpse of Williams warming up.
Williams won the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles as a 17-year-old at the 1999 US Open, beating Martina Hingis in the final.
That breakthrough victory confirmed what had become apparent ever since her professional debut four years earlier: that Williams, alongside sister Venus, was a rising force in women’s tennis.
Since then, Williams has become the most dominant female player in the Open era, her 23 Grand Slam titles second only to Margaret Court’s 24.
While a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title is likely to remain beyond her next week, Williams has nevertheless produced a collection of records that in all probability will never be broken.
With seven Australian Open singles titles, seven Wimbledon titles and six US Open titles, Williams is the only player, male or female to win three different Grand Slams six times or more.
In total, she has won 39 Grand Slam titles — with 14 women’s doubles crowns and two mixed doubles titles to go alongside her 23 singles victories.
Whether or not Williams is able to extend her Grand Slam career much further than Monday’s first round remains to be seen.
Williams herself has called a 24th Grand Slam title “fan fantasy.”
“I get that,” she said this month. “It’s a good fantasy. But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment. I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst.”
Williams’ recent results indicate the pessimism is well-founded. In her first match after her retirement announcement, Williams lost 6-2, 6-4 to Belinda Bencic in Toronto.
In her next outing, in Cincinnati, she was routed 6-4, 6-0 by reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu, the British teenager who was born three years after Williams’ first Grand Slam victory in 1999.
— with AFP