In the opening match of what has been billed as her final tennis tournament, Serena Williams powered her way to a win at the U.S. Open and was honored by luminaries afterward.
Serena Williams began her opening round match on Monday night against Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in a rocky fashion, committing double faults and nearly being down 4-2 in the first set. But a sterling backhand return by the tennis legend, set the scene for a tremendous comeback which saw her win the match, 6-3, 6-3, straight sets.
The win added more luster to Williams’ career, making it the 40th time she won an opening match at the U.S. Open. Her win over the 80th-ranked Kovinic also extended her number of Grand Slam victories to 366 – the most for a woman player. Williams was ready for the evening, wearing a figure-skating-inspired dress, representing her six U.S. Open titles and wearing diamonds in her hair.
Williams was surprised at the end of the match as CBS This Morning host Gayle King strode out to the court to pay homage to her in a special tribute ceremony. The ceremony also featured a video narrated by Oprah Winfrey. Tennis legend Billie Jean King was also present and offered her tribute.
“You touched our hearts and minds to be our authentic self,” King said. “To use our voices. To dream big. Thank you for your leadership and commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion and especially for women and women of color. Most of all, thank you for sharing your journey with every single one of us.”
The tennis star was visibly moved throughout the night by the crowd’s applause and the ceremony in particular. “I could feel it in my chest, and it was a really good feeling. It’s a feeling I will never forget and that meant a lot to me,” she said afterward.
Serena Williams has received standing ovations at every tournament that she has played in since penning her first-person essay for Vogue Magazine stating that she was going to “evolve” from tennis. The 29,040-member crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium was no different, as celebrities like Spike Lee, Queen Latifah, former President Bill Clinton and Offset were in attendance.
Williams will also be playing doubles with her sister, Venus. Her next singles match will be against the number two seed in the tournament, Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.