as Serena Williams Desperately trying to drag herself through the first set of the match which could have been the end, she struggled really hard. She had been engulfed in an endless service game at 5-3 and could only fight to hold on. She eventually faced her fourth break point in the game, as the pressure increased with each point. And then, as such, she put Arthur Ashe’s court back in the past: an ace, an ace, a non-return serve. Designation. Williams walked toward her seat, clenched her fists and roared into the sky.
Serving, fighting and behavior have been some of the key milestones in tennis for two and a half decades. After these weeks, they will likely never be seen again.
If there was any doubt about the significance of Williams’ impending departure, the spectacle that greeted her arriving at Arthur Ashe Stadium for her potential final tournament brought her home. Mike Tyson sat next to Martina Navratilova. Gladys Knight appeared on the midnight train to Georgia playing in the background. In the Williams boxers’ box, her daughter, Olympia, appeared in the stands with beads in her braids, a perfect moment.
After Danka Kovinić made her way to Arthur Ashe Course to clap relative to golf, Williams’ entry was preceded by a video narrated by Queen Latifah. She entered in an outfit that shimmered from head to toe in diamonds, from her hair to the dazzling cape that trailed her to court. Both diamonds Kanye West from Sierra Leone and a deafening roar from the audience sounded her arrival. As they warmed up, screens around the edge of Arthur Ashe Stadium read “The Greatest of All Time” and the announcer recounted Williams’ accomplishments in minute detail.
Participating in the biggest matches in the world, Williams has pushed her way off the brink and has won all four of the Grand Slams simultaneously. At the height of her strength, when Domination was her middle name, her mental strength was peerless. But she’s never experienced anything like this, playing with the knowledge that this is the end.
Under that pressure, she did well and did much better than on her last outings. Her nerves were naturally there from the start and she missed twice in the opening match. Even after she immediately drove a break, she couldn’t settle down. Every roar from the audience at first sounded like an unwelcome reminder of the importance of this moment, and with her front hand leaking an inadvertent misstep, she at first seemed overwhelmed by the matter.
But Williams refused to end her career with a first-round loss. She has struggled badly in recent months, winning only once in the previous three singles events and being defeated 6-4, 6-0 by Emma Radocano two weeks ago in Cincinnati. “I was really emotional in Toronto and Cincinnati,” she said afterwards. “It was very difficult. I am not saying it is not difficult now. It is still very difficult because I absolutely love being there.”
Her desperation to end her career on a positive note was palpable. He could hear the footsteps of her little feet screaming on the field during every point, the falling shots that chased her into the perfect sprint and the grunts that permeated every important moment. From her box of players, Rennae Stubbs, her new advisor for just one tournament, has taken advantage of the new coaching rules to express positive affirmations high.
Amid the incessant cries of the crowd, Kovinich shined and present, upsetting Williams with her consistency, length and booming first serve. But after her tepid start, Williams slowly found her serve and the free points she opened. She recovered from a breakdown to win the first set and then after struggling hard with the forehands, and the errors flowing freely, she began to unload with increasing freedom. By the end of the match, she was playing as she always should, asserting herself from behind the baseline.
There was a time, not so long ago, when every Williams win was predictable. How quickly things change. When Williams tackled her win, she made an observation completely different from her usual look. “Everything is a bonus for me,” she said. From the audience, the feeling was mutual. When I got to match point, nearly every Arthur Ashe fan stood and watched the entire last point on their feet, raising their necks to get one last look at Williams in full swing.
After a career that shattered expectations, Williams has accomplished too much to believe in herself as she next faces Annette Kontaveit, the world’s No. 2 player out of shape. And you’ll head into their second-round match determined to craft at least one last signature moment. Even now, at the age of 40, with her recent struggles, it is hard to question her ability to do so.
After the victory, Williams remained in court for the party where Gayle King and Billie Jean King spoke and a video narrated by Oprah was played. Olympia, Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, and her sister, Isha, stood by the court. Williams spoke to the audience and in the middle of her comments, she emphasized succinctly why this is so important. “I just want people to be inspired,” Williams said. “I’m from Compton, California. And I made it.”
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