She may be playing the last few matches of her career, but Serena Williams will not stop fighting, and will not stop giving herself another chance.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion was far from her best on Monday, but the support of a hugely partisan crowd that turned up in record numbers to see what could have been the final match of her glittering career powered her past the nervy mistakes and faltering serves to defeat Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-3.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 30, 2022
Kovinic’s strategy seemed to depend on targetting Williams’ serve early, and she put the American under pressure by creating five break point opportunities in her first three service games. As the crowd pushed her on, Williams grew into the match and the serving numbers improved, and so did her aggression on return.
The 40-year-old broke her opponent’s serve five times throughout the match herself, and while the power may have died down, and the dominance she asserted with her targetted groundstrokes may have waned, there were glimpses of her ability of old. The pressure began to weigh heavily on Kovinic, and the 80th-ranked Montenegrin eventually caved.
Williams’ status as an icon – not just of sport, but in popular culture in general – was on full display on a night filled with glamour at Flushing Meadows. Film actor Hugh Jackman and former US President Bill Clinton were in attendance. Film director Spike Lee performed the coin toss, Vogue editor Anna Wintour sat in her player box, and former boxer Mike Tyson accompanied Martina Navratilova in the stands.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 30, 2022
The American received a small ceremony at the end of the match, despite winning it, during which the legendary former player Billie Jean King paid tribute. More is likely to come as the rest of the tournament unfolds.
Williams’ next assignment is against World No. 2 Anett Kontaveit. The Estonian is not in especially hot form, and if Monday night proved anything, the American – and her tens of thousands of supporters in the Arthur Ashe Stadium – could put her under plenty of pressure.