Fueled by an electric crowd and her fierce competitive fire, Serena Williams stepped onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night and defied time, rust and her own frustration to extend her remarkable career at least one more round.
After a pro career of unparalleled success that began when she was 14, Williams disclosed this month that her retirement was at hand as she neared her 41st birthday. But Monday wasn’t going to be that night, she declared in gritty fashion, toppling 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic, 6-3, 6-3, to advance to the second round of the U.S. Open.
With the victory, Williams kept intact one of countless distinctions in her illustrious career. She has never lost a first-round match at the U.S. Open, bringing her mark since 1998 to 21-0. She also elevated her U.S. Open record to 107-14.
But Williams, who has won an Open-era-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, had played just four matches in the past 14 months, winning only one. Her most recent match, Aug. 16, ended in a lopsided, error-strewn loss to 19-year-old Emma Raducanu that lasted just 65 minutes.
So every aspect of Williams’s game, apart from experience and sheer will, was in question when she took the court Monday against the hard-hitting Kovinic. Her next hurdle is apt to be considerably higher: a second-round match Wednesday against world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, 26, of Estonia.
After a rocky start by both players, Williams broke into a broad smile upon clinching the victory over Kovinic. After extending a warm handshake at the net, Williams executed her customary victory twirl as she acknowledged all four sides of the towering grandstands and blew kisses. Then, amid a standing ovation, she remained on court for the U.S. Open’s video tribute narrated by Oprah Winfrey.
“I’ve always just got to do the best that I can,” Williams told the audience during her on-court interview with TV personality Gayle King. “I feel so comfortable on this court and in front of everyone here.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Liz Clarke