US Open: Serena through to second round

Serena Williams

Serena Williams extended her US Open farewell with a gritty opening win on an entertaining night packed with hope and celebration in New York.

Williams, who is set to retire after the tournament, won 6-3 6-3 against Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic.

A near-capacity 25,000 crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium willed on their idol, who responded in typical determined style.

Williams, 40, will play Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round on Wednesday.

The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, who is one short of Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record, is also playing in the doubles alongside older sister Venus, adding another exciting element to what she hopes will be a long goodbye this fortnight.

Her first assignment was beating Kovinic, ranked 80th in the world, and there was a thunderous noise when she took the first of three match points to ensure her singles career was not over yet.

Williams jumped on the spot when Kovinic’s backhand return hit the net, then twirled ecstatically in the centre of the court before blowing kisses to her adoring fans when she had returned to her seat to soak in the occasion.

On how occasions like this affect her plans, she said: “It’s extremely difficult still because I absolutely love being out there.

“The more tournaments I play, I feel like the more I can belong out there. That’s a tough feeling to have, and to leave knowing the more you do it, the more you can shine.

“But it’s time for me, you know, to evolve to the next thing. I think it’s important because there’s so many other things that I want to do.”

Williams has long been more than a tennis player and it was a sign of her status – as an American icon and one of the world’s most recognisable sport 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 itself, preferring to say she was “evolving away” from the sport, there is no mistaking her intention is to end her glittering career this fortnight at her home major.

Suitably, for what could have been her final match, it was a night of celebrity and glamour.

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Williams – wearing a glittery, figure skating-inspired dress and diamond-encrusted trainers to add further theatre to the occasion – unsurprisingly arrived on court to a rapturous reception, moments after the stadium watched a video montage in celebration of what she has achieved as a player and a person.

“When I walked out, the reception was really overwhelming. It was loud and I could feel it in my chest. It was a really good feeling,” she said.

“It’s a feeling I’ll never forget. It meant a lot to me.”

Kovinic had already come out to court, leaving her with a long – and what must have been a nervous – wait next to her chair.

Film director Spike Lee, who called Williams his “little sister” in a video released earlier on Monday, took part in the coin toss, while Vogue editor Anna Wintour, another close personal friend, was sat in her support box behind the player’s family.

Other famous faces picked out by the stadium cameras included former US President Bill Clinton, soul singer Gladys Knight, boxer Mike Tyson and model Bella Hadid.