They came from far and wide for Serena — no last name required, befitting someone as much an icon as superstar athlete — to see her practice and play and, it turned out, win a match at the U.S. Open on Monday night, turning out in record numbers to fill Arthur Ashe Stadium and shout and applaud and pump their fists right along with her.
Serena Williams is not ready to say goodbye just yet. Nor, clearly, are her fans. And she heard them, loud and clear.
In her first match at what is expected to be the last U.S. Open — and last tournament — of her remarkable playing career, even if she insists that she won’t quite say so, Williams overcame a shaky start to overpower Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-3 amid an atmosphere more akin to a festival than a farewell.
“When I walked out, the reception was really overwhelming. It was loud and I could feel it in my chest. It was a really good feeling,” said the owner of six U.S. Open championships and 23 Grand Slam titles overall, numbers unsurpassed by any other player in the sport’s professional era.
“It’s a feeling I’ll never forget,” she added. “Yeah, that meant a lot to me.”
WATCH | Serena Williams advances to 2nd round:
This opening outing against Kovinic, a 27-year-old from Montenegro ranked 80th, became an event with a capital “E.” Spike Lee participated in the pre-match coin toss. Former President Bill Clinton was in the stands. So were Mike Tyson and Martina Navratilova, sitting next to each other. And sitting with Dad and Grandma was Williams’ daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Thursday, wearing white beads in her hair just like Mom did while winning the U.S. Open for the first time at age 17 back in 1999.
Williams is now 40, and told the world three weeks ago via an essay for Vogue that she was ready to concentrate on having a second child and her venture capital firm.
Asked after her victory Monday whether this will definitively be her final tournament, Williams replied with a knowing smile: “Yeah, I’ve been pretty vague about it, right?”
Then she added: “I’m going to stay vague, because you never know.”
The night session drew 29,000 folks, a high for the tournament — more than 23,000 were in Ashe; thousands more watched on a video screen outside the arena — and the place was as loud as ever. Certainly louder than any other first-round match in memory.
Both players called the decibel level “crazy.” Kovinic said she couldn’t hear the ball come off Williams’ racket strings — or even her own.
We ❤️ Serena<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/USOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#USOpen</a> <a href=”https://t.co/MJCCWgrzDT”>pic.twitter.com/MJCCWgrzDT</a>
Early, Williams was not at her best. Maybe it was the significance of the moment. There were double-faults. Other missed strokes, missed opportunities. She went up 2-0, but then quickly trailed 3-2. Then, suddenly, Williams, looked a lot like the champion she’s been for decades and less like the player who came into this match with a 1-3 record since returning to action in late June after nearly a year off the tour.
“At this point, honestly, everything is a bonus for me, I feel,” Williams said. “It’s good that I was able to get this under my belt… I’m just not even thinking about that. I’m just thinking about just this moment. I think it’s good for me just to live in the moment now.”
She rolled through the end of that opening set, capping it with a service winner she reacted to with clenched fists and her trademark cry of “Come on!” That was met with thunderous cheers and applause — as was the ending of the 1-hour, 40-minute contest, as if another trophy had been earned.
Instead, there is plenty more work to be done. Williams will play in the second round of singles on Wednesday against No. 2 seed Anett Kontveit of Estonia. And there’s also doubles, too: Williams and her sister, Venus, are entered together in that competition, with their initial match slated for Wednesday or Thursday.
“Just keep supporting me,” Williams told the spectators, “as long as I’m here.”
2019 U.S. Open champ Andreescu downs Tan
Bianca Andreescu advanced to the second round of the U.S. Open with a 6-0, 3-6, 6-1 win over France’s Harmony Tan on Monday in New York.
As it turned out, Andreescu kick-started a successful opening day for Canadian singles players.
Andreescu, ranked 50th in the world heading into the final Grand Slam of the season, put the game away on her second match point when Tan missed on a forehand volley.
The 22-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., and 2019 U.S. champion, improved her all-time record to 11-1 at the tournament.
Andreescu started the match with a dominant first set, losing just eight points. She won 14 points in a row between the fourth and sixth games.
Tan came back with a strong second set, scoring two early breaks and jumping to a 4-0 lead. Andreescu cut the lead to 5-3, but Tan served to love in the decisive game to even the match at a set apiece.
WATCH | Andreescu wins 6 of 9 break points in 1st-round victory:
Andreescu returned to form in the third set, scoring an early break in Game 2 and taking a 3-0 lead. Tan won on serve to cut the lead to 3-1, but Andreescu responded by serving to love in Game 5, then came back from 40-0 down to score the break and take a 5-1 lead.
Serving for the match, Andreescu clinched the victory on her second match point.
Tan had 28 unforced errors and eight double-faults in the match, compared to 17 unforced errors and just one double-fault for Andreescu.
WATCH | Andreescu ousted from National Bank Open by Zheng:
Andreescu won six of nine break points and defended one of the three she faced.
Andreescu will next face National Bank Open finalist Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, who cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Ana Konjuh of Croatia.
WATCH | Andreescu captures 2019 U.S. Open title:
Marino, Fernandez, Auger-Aliassime round out successful day for Canadians
Vancouver native Rebecca Marino will also be moving on to the second round, earning a 6-2, 6-3 win over Poland’s Magdalena Frech.
Marino, 31, won four of her seven break points to go along with 19 winners on the match.
WATCH | Marino victorious in 1st round:
She will next face Daria Snigur, who upset seventh seed Simona Halep 6-2, 0-6, 6-4.
“I had goose bumps stepping back into this court tonight,” said Fernandez post-match. “I felt the love here tonight. I was a bit tired waiting all day long, but the crowd’s cheers pushed me to the end. They [fans] also helped me calm my nerves and emotions.”
In men’s singles competition, sixth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal struggled at times with his serve, but still managed to coast to a quick 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win against Switzerland’s Alexander Ritschard.
Auger-Aliassime had 13 aces in the match, eight double faults and took four of eight break points.
WATCH | Auger-Aliassime through to 2nd round:
Top-seeded Medvedev cruises past Kozlov
Daniil Medvedev had an easy start to his U.S. Open title defence, beating Stefan Kozlov 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 on Monday.
Simona Halep had another early exit, this one coming in a memorable first tour-level win for Ukraine’s Snigur.
Snigur upset the No. 7 seed 6-2, 0-6, 6-4, then struggled through tears to explain what the victory meant to her family and her country, which is at war with Russia.
On the same Arthur Ashe Stadium court where Serena Williams began what could be the final tournament of her career with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Danka Kovinic on Monday night, the top-seeded Medvedev looked just as strong as he did in sweeping past Novak Djokovic in last year’s final for his first major title.
A smooth start for the defending champion! <a href=”https://t.co/9WA597JDUg”>pic.twitter.com/9WA597JDUg</a>
Medvedev advanced to face Arthur Rinderknech of France. The Russian is trying to become the first repeat champion at the U.S. Open since Roger Federer won five straight from 2004-08.
“I need to be at my best on Wednesday and I’m going to try to make it,” Medvedev said.
Andy Murray into 2nd round with early upset
Andy Murray was another early winner, 10 years after winning the first of his three Grand Slam titles in Flushing Meadows. He had one of the first upsets of the tournament by beating No. 24 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.
“It seems like a long time ago,” Murray said of his victory over Djokovic in 2012. “A lot’s happened since then in my career.”
Fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas won’t be staying in it after dropping the first 11 games to qualifier Daniel Elahi Galan before falling 6-0, 6-1, 3-6, 7-5.
Many fans arriving for the day session at the final Grand Slam event of the season were focused on the match that would lead off the action at night. Williams, the 23-time major champion, has said she is preparing to end her tennis career.
Coco Gauff wasn’t going to miss it, saying she was going to change plans and attend instead of watching on TV in her hotel room.
“As I thought about it, I was, like, I have to watch,” the 18-year-old American said after her straight-sets victory. “I’m excited and, you know, it’s not often we watch live matches, to be honest.”
Williams faced more comfortable conditions after a hot start under a sunny sky in Flushing Meadows. Leading 3-0 in the third set, Medvedev told the chair umpire he wanted a bag of ice so he could put it on his head.
“It was pretty hot today and humid,” Medvedev said. “I see the other guys coming from five-setters in the locker room, pretty red faces. That’s also fun in a way sometimes to get through these conditions. Even today, the match was maybe not that intensive and long, but, yeah, I sweated a lot and it was not easy.”
Ukrainian shocks No. 7 Halep for 1st win
Snigur was playing her first match in the main draw of a Grand Slam. The 20-year-old wore a ribbon in the blue and yellow colours of Ukraine’s flag on her chest, and she put her hands around it after finishing off the victory.
She played last week in the “Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition” to raise money to aid Ukraine. That was on Louis Armstrong Stadium, which may have calmed her nerves a bit when she was sent back out onto the same court Monday.
“I think it helped me because I was here in `Tennis Plays for Peace’ and I think it helped me a little bit,” Snigur said as she fought through tears during an on-court interview.
Halep had won 19 of her last 22 matches and recently returned to the top 10, but the U.S. Open has been the most challenging major for the two-time Grand Slam champion. She is 21-11 in New York and has lost in the first round of three of her last five appearances.
Two other past champions had short stays. Dominic Thiem, the 2020 champion who missed last year because of injury, fell to Pablo Carreno Busta in four sets. The 2016 winner, Stan Wawrinka, retired from his match against Corentin Moutet after losing a second-set tiebreaker. He has been plagued by injuries in recent years.
No. 29 seed Tommy Paul overcame the heat to outlast Bernabe Zapata Miralles 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-0, 7-5 in 3 hours, 10 minutes. Fellow American Sebastian Korda also got his first win at his home Slam, beating Facundo Bagnis in four sets.
Another American advanced in an upset, with J.J. Wolf ousting No. 16 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets.
Victorious Wu makes Chinese history
Also, Wu Yibing became the first Chinese man to win a U.S. Open match in the professional era, upsetting No. 31 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. He had played his way into the field through the qualifying tournament, joining countryman and fellow qualifier Zhang Zhizhen as the first Chinese men in the U.S. Open main draw since the open era began in 1968.
Zhang lost his first-round match.
Third-seeded Maria Sakkari and No. 17 Caroline Garcia were among the early winners on the women’s side, with Sakkari overcoming Wimbledon semifinalist Tatjana Maria in three sets.