Brilliant Serena Williams overcomes torrid start to wow US Open crowd – The Guardian

As Serena Williams desperately trying to drag herself through the first set of the match that could mark the end, she struggled badly. She was sucked into an endless service game at 5-3 and she could only fight to hold. She then faced her fourth break point of the game, the pressure mounting with each point. And then, just like that, she took Arthur Ashe Stadium back to the past: ace, ace, unreturned serve. A set Williams walked to her seat, she clenched both of her fists and she roared into the sky.

The serve, the fight and the attitude have all been some fundamental sights in tennis for two and a half decades. After these weeks, they will probably never be seen again.

If there was any doubt about the significance of Williams’ impending departure, the spectacle that greeted her arrival on Arthur Ashe Stadium for her likely final tournament nailed it home. Mike Tyson sat next to Martina Navratilova. Gladys Knight appeared on Midnight Train to Georgia playing in the background. In Williams’ playbox, her daughter, Olympia, appeared in the stands with beads in her braids, a full circle moment.

After Danka Kovinić headed to Arthur Ashe Stadium to relative applause, Williams’ entrance was preceded by a video narrated by Queen Latifah. She entered in an outfit that sparkled from head to toe in diamonds, from her hair to the glittering cape that trailed her onto the court. And Kanye West’s Diamonds of Sierra Leone and a deafening, prolonged roar from he crowd heralded her arrival. As they warmed up, the screens around the sidelines of Arthur Ashe Stadium read “greatest of all time” and the announcer listed Williams’ accomplishments in minute detail.

Williams contested the biggest matches in the world, she wanted her way from the brink and she held all four grand slams simultaneously. At the height of her powers, when dominance was her middle name, her mental strength was unparalleled. But she had never experienced anything like this, playing with the knowledge that this was the end.

Under such pressure, she did well and she performed much better than in her other recent outings. Her nerves were naturally present from the start and she doubled up twice in her opening game. Even after she immediately led with a break, she couldn’t calm down. Every roar from the crowd seemed at first to be an unwelcome reminder of the significance of this moment, and as her forehand leaked unforced errors she seemed overwhelmed at first.

But Williams refused to end her career with a first-round loss. She has struggled badly in recent months, winning just once in her three previous singles events and being handed a 6-4, 6-0 defeat by Emma Raducanu two weeks ago in Cincinnati. “I was really emotional in Toronto and Cincinnati,” she said later. “It was very difficult. I’m not saying it’s not difficult now. It’s still extremely difficult because I absolutely love being out there.”

Gayle King interviews Serena Williams on court after her win.
Gayle King interviews Serena Williams on court after her win. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

Her desperation to end her career on a positive note was palpable. It could be heard in her little steps creaking on the court during every point, the drop shots she chased down at full sprint and the grunts that punctuated every important moment. From her player box, Rennae Stubbs, her new consultant for one tournament only, took advantage of the new coaching rules to shout out positive affirmations.

Amidst the constant screams of the crowd, Kovinić was calm and present, teasing Williams with her consistency, length and thunderous first serve. But after her lukewarm start, Williams slowly found her serve and the free points it unlocked. She recovered from a break to win the first set and then after struggling badly with her forehand, errors flowing freely, she began to unload with increasing freedom. By the end of the match, she was playing as she always should, imposing herself from behind the baseline.

There was a time, not too long ago, when every Williams victory was just expected. How quickly things change. As Williams processed her victory, she struck an entirely different note to her usual outlook. “Everything is a bonus for me,” she said. From the audience, the feeling was mutual. As she reached match point, nearly every fan in Arthur Ashe stood up and watched the entire final point on their feet, craning their necks to get one last glimpse of Williams in full flow.

After a career of shattering expectations, Williams has achieved too much for her not to believe in herself when she next faces Anett Kontaveit, the out-of-form world No. 2. She will go into their second-round match determined to make at least one final signing. a moment Even now, at 40, with her recent struggles, it’s hard to doubt her ability to do so.

After the victory, Williams remained on court for the ceremony where Gayle King and Billie Jean King spoke and a video narrated by Oprah played. Olympia, Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, and her sister, Isha, stood courtside. Williams spoke to the audience and in the middle of her comments, she succinctly underlined why this is so significant. “I just want people to be inspired,” Williams said. “I’m from Compton, California. And I did it.”

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