Serena Williams, playing in what is likely the final tennis tournament of her storied career.
Williams, 40, who recently announced that she’d be stepping away from the game to focus on family, defeated Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-3 in the tournament’s first round and will move on to play No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday, August 31.
It was a night she accented symbolism in her appearance. She wore a glittering outfit that originally had six layers, representing her six U.S. Open championships (four of them were removed because she revealed after the game that they were too heavy.)
Her opening match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York was not without its nervous moments. Williams had to deal with two break points in the opening game, but she wound up winning that game and the one after and eventually the set. However, Kovinic won three straight games herself. But in a tense sixth game of the set, Williams took the lead at 4-3 for the win.
Later, she went on to save eight of 10 break points and in the second set, she was near flawless, committing only one double fault and went on to dominate the match. She emerged victorious with nine aces to six double faults, landing 43 of 66 first-serves, according to match records.
After the win, speaking with CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King on the court, Williams talked about how at home she was there. “I feel so comfortable on this court, in front of everyone here,” she said in front of the cheering crowd of 24,000 people. “When I step out on the court, I just want to do my best that I can on that particular day. That’s really all I can really do.”
Williams announced her retirement last month in an essay written in Vogue magazine’s Sept. 2022 issue. In it, she said she doesn’t even use the r-word when talking about the decision she’s made about moving on.
“Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution,” said Williams, in the article. “I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me. A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family.”
Williams also said she was “reluctant” to talk about moving on from tennis, adding: “I can’t even have this conversation with my mom and dad. It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud. It comes up, I get an uncomfortable lump in my throat, and I start to cry. The only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist!”
But for now, the victory lap continues. The Monday win was her 102nd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, more than any other player since its 1997 opening, according to ESPN. In addition to playing Kontaveit, she will also play alongside her sister, Venus Williams in doubles later in the tournament.
When athletes who are considered the GOAT decide to retire, it’s not always certain that they will. NFL quarterback Tom Brady, announced his retirement from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after winning seven Super Bowls. Then decided to come back for at least another season. Although Williams has announced she’s stepping away, one can never be too sure.
Speaking with reporters after the match, she was asked if this was really it for her. “Yeah, I’ve been pretty vague about it, right?” she smiled. “I’m going to stay vague, because you never know.”