|Event: Flushing Meadows, New York dates: August 29-September 11|
|coverage: Daily radio commentary on BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app, with selected live text commentary and match reports on the website and app.|
Serena Williams extended her US Open farewell with a courageous opening win on an entertaining night filled with hope and celebration in New York.
Williams, who will retire after the tournament, won 6-3, 6-3 against Danka Kovinic of Montenegro.
A crowd nearing 25,000 capacity at Arthur Ashe Stadium loved their idol and she responded in typical fashion.
Williams, 40, will play second-seeded Estonian Anett Kontaveit in the second round on Wednesday.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, who is one shy of Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record, also plays in doubles alongside older sister Venus, adding another exciting element to what she hopes will be a long goodbye this fortnight.
His first assignment was to beat Kovinic, who is ranked 80th in the world, and there was a thunderous noise as he took the first of three match points to ensure his singles run was not over yet.
Williams jumped on the spot as Kovinic’s backhand hit the net, then twirled in ecstasy at center court before blowing kisses to her fans as she returned to her seat to enjoy the occasion.
On how occasions like this affect his plans, he said: “It’s still extremely difficult because I love being out there.
“The more tournaments I play, I feel like I can belong further. It’s a hard feeling to have, and to go out knowing that the more you do it, the more you can shine.”
“But it’s time for me to evolve to the next thing. I think it’s important because there are so many other things I want to do.”
Williams thrills the crowd on the night of celebration
Williams has long been more than just a tennis player and it was a sign of her status, as an American icon and one of the world’s most recognizable sports stars, that she announced her retirement in an essay for glossy fashion magazine Vogue.
Although the former world number one did not use the word retirement per se, preferring to say that she was “disappearing” from the sport, there is no doubt that she intends to end her brilliant career this fortnight in her local specialty.
Fittingly, for what could have been his last match, it was a night of celebrity and glamour.
Wearing a sparkly figure skating-inspired gown and diamond-encrusted sneakers to add more drama to the occasion, Williams unsurprisingly arrived on the rink to a rousing reception, moments after the stadium viewed a video montage. in celebration of what she has accomplished as a player and person.
“When I came out, the reception was really overwhelming. It was strong and I could feel it in my chest. It was a really good feeling,” he said.
“It’s a feeling I will never forget. It meant a lot to me.”
Kovinic had already left for court, leaving her with a long, and what must have been nervous, wait by her chair.
Film director Spike Lee, who called Williams his “little sister” in a video posted Monday, took part in the coin toss, while Vogue editor Anna Wintour, another close personal friend, sat in his box. support behind the player’s family.
Other famous faces caught on camera at the stadium included former US President Bill Clinton, soul singer Gladys Knight, boxer Mike Tyson and model Bella Hadid.
Williams’ daughter Olympia, with white beads in her hair in homage to her mother’s style when she won the 1999 US Open, sat in the front row, alongside her father Alexis and across from grandmother Oracene.
The entire family jumped to their feet as Williams scored a victory that will live on in the memories of those who saw it.
But it wasn’t over yet. TV presenter Gayle King took to the court to lead another celebration, first joined at the microphone by Billie Jean King, another pioneering American tennis legend, who paid a warm tribute, and then by Williams herself.
“I didn’t expect any of this,” Williams said. “I always have to do my best. I’ve always felt very comfortable here.
“The crowd was crazy! It really helped me get ahead. I was really excited. I thought ‘I got it.'”
How far can Williams go?
After all the fanfare, the serious business of tennis began and Williams showed all her competitive character in a match that lacked quality in most parts.
Both players seemed impressed by the occasion, producing plenty of double faults and unforced errors in a lopsided first set, before Williams finally took control.
There were questions about what condition she would be in, as she struggled with a knee injury before being thrashed by British number one Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati.
Williams, now ranked 413th in the world, started on a positive note as she took a 2-0 lead before Kovinic fought back for a 3-2 lead to dampen Ashe’s spirits.
But the American won the last four games to clinch the first set and generate more scenes of jubilation.
The second set started ominously with Kovinic committing another double fault and although he recovered to hold on, Williams continued to press his serve.
Once Williams broke for a 3-2 lead, it didn’t look like she was going to give up the lead. While he was on his way to victory, the veteran was moving well, hitting well and showing a lot of quality.
Now there will be another night of intrigue when he faces Kontaveit.
The Estonian is ranked second in the world and while she hasn’t lived up to that status this year, losing to Williams would send seismic shockwaves throughout the sport.
It would also raise the hopes of some American fans who dream, more out of emotional nostalgia than reasoned judgment, that their idol can somehow win that elusive 24th major and spectacularly bow out by matching Court’s all-time record.