NEW YORK — Serena Williams‘ expected retirement will have to wait at least another two days. The 23-time major champion won her first-round match, 6-3, 6-3, over Danka Kovinic at the US Open on Monday night.
Since Williams, 40, announced her impending plans to “evolve” from tennis in a first-person essay in Vogue earlier this month, she’s been given a farewell tour of sorts, and received standing ovations at both the Canadian Open and the Western & Southern Open.
On Monday night, the sold-out crowd of nearly 24,000 — which included a laundry list of A-list celebrities and notables, including former President Bill Clinton, Spike Lee, Lindsey Vonn, Bella Hadid, Rebel Wilson, Vera Wang, Queen Latifah, Mike Tyson, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Gladys Knight, Martina Navratilova and even Coco Gauff — was on its feet before Williams even took the court. After a video narrated by Queen Latifah was shown summarizing her legendary career, Williams was introduced to the crowd as the “Greatest Of All Time” to loud cheers that continued during any break in the action throughout the match.
It was Williams’ 102nd win at Arthur Ashe Stadium — the most by any player since it opened in 1997 — and extended her record for Grand Slam victories by a woman to 366.
Williams offered a glimpse to her future without tennis competition during a ceremony after the match, telling the crowd: “There’s other chapters in life.”
Tickets for Monday’s night session became a hot commodity after Williams’ announcement. According to TickPick, a secondary ticket website, the cost to attend Monday’s night session was more expensive than any US Open Women’s Final on record. The average secondary market ticket price was listed at $987 as of Monday morning, according to ticket analytics firm TicketIQ.
Even her practice session before the match drew thousands of fans cramming in to sneak a peak of the legend, with rows lined up to catch a glimpse through a meshed fence.
But despite the fanfare, Williams wasn’t ready to call it a career just yet. On Monday, wearing a figure-skating inspired dress with six layers to represent all six of her US Open titles and matching diamonds in her hair, Williams glided around the court — twirled at the end — and showed flashes of what has made her one of the all-time greats. She had nine aces and notched 22 winners in the 99-minute match.
After watching the victory, spectators held up blue, white or red placards that were distributed at their seats to spell out “We (Heart) Serena.“
“Just keep supporting me,” Williams said, “as long as I’m here.”
Rennae Stubbs, the former player-turned-coach and analyst, has been working with Williams this week in New York. In an interview with ABC prior to the match, Stubbs said Williams was nervous but was still preparing for the match and the tournament with her same trademark intensity.
“The practices have been really hard,” Stubbs said on Monday. “She’s practiced really, really hard this week. She’s practiced with other players, which she’s never done in the past. And, you know, she’s trying to do everything she possibly can to be at her very best tonight.”
Williams will next play No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday in the second round, in addition to playing doubles alongside sister Venus. The two have won 14 major titles together as a team, most recently at Wimbledon in 2016. This marks their first time playing together since the French Open in 2018.
Venus, 42, has not revealed any plans to retire but has played sparingly over the last year.