Serena Williams overcame slow start to delight US Open fans | Serena Williams

As Serena Williams Desperately trying to pull herself through the first set of a match that could mark the end, she was struggling badly. She was stuck in an endless service game at 5-3 and could only fight back. Eventually he faced his fourth break point of the match and the pressure mounted with each one. And then, just like that, he took Arthur Ashe Stadium into the past: ace, ace, unreturned serve. Set up. Williams walked to her seat, her fists clenched as she roared to the sky.

Serve, fight and attitude have all been some of the fundamentals in tennis for two and a half decades. After these weeks, they would never see each other again.

If there was any doubt about the significance of Williams’ imminent departure, it was her arrival at Arthur Ashe Stadium for her final match that greeted her. Mike Tyson sat next to Martina Navratilova. Gladys Knight played in the background on Midnight Train to Georgia. In Williams’ player box, her daughter, Olympia, emerged on the stand with beads in her braids, a full-circle moment.

A video narrated by Queen Latifah preceded Williams’ entrance after Tanka Kovinic headed to Arthur Ashe Stadium for a pair of golf clubs. She stepped out in a dress sparkling from head to toe in diamonds, from her hair to the bedside cape that took her to court. Both Kanye West’s Diamonds from Sierra Leone and the deafening long roar of his crowd soundtracked her arrival. As they warmed up, screens around the edge of Arthur Ashe Stadium read “Greatest of All Time” and the announcer listed Williams’ accomplishments in painstaking detail.

Williams has competed in the biggest tournaments in the world, she has loved her way from the brink and she has held all four Grand Slams simultaneously. At the height of her power, when Dominion was her middle name, her mental strength was unparalleled. But she had never experienced anything like this, playing knowing that this was the end.

Under such pressure, he performed well and performed better than his other recent outings. Her nerves were natural from the start and she double-faulted twice in the opening game. Even after she immediately led by a gap, she couldn’t settle. Every roar from the crowd seemed like an unpleasant reminder of the importance of the moment, and she looked overwhelmed early on as unforced errors leaked from her forearm.

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

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

His desperation to end his career on a positive note was palpable. It was audible in her tiny footsteps rattling the court with every point, the drop shots she chased at full speed, and the grunts that punctuated every crucial moment. From his player’s box, his new mentor for a match, Renne Stubbs, made loud positive affirmations about using the new coaching rules.

Amid the constant screams of the crowd, Kovinic remained composed and engaged, exasperating Williams with her consistency, length and booming first serve. But after her sluggish start, Williams slowly found her serve and the free points it opened up. After recovering from a break down to win the first set, then struggling badly on the forehand and errors flowing freely, she began to increase her independence. By the end of the match, she was playing as well as ever.

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

After a career of shattered expectations, Williams has achieved beyond belief as she next faces in-form world No. 2 Annette Kontavit. He will lead the second round of play with a commitment to engineer at least one last signing. moment. Even now, at 40, with her recent struggles, it’s hard to doubt her talent.

After the win, Williams was courtside at a 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, took the side of the court. Williams spoke to the audience and in the middle of his remarks, he briefly underlined why this makes so much sense. “I want people to be inspired,” Williams said. “I’m from Compton, California. I did it.

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