Serena Williams may not play deep into the women’s singles draw at this year’s US Open. But she gave the fans a magical night in her first round match in front of a star studded, record setting crowd at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow-Corona Parks, Queens. 

An enthusiastic 29,402 patrons, the most ever for a US Open night session, came out to see the greatest women’s player in the history of tennis. Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles, the second most behind the 24 achieved by Margaret Court, and has captured six US Open singles titles. The crowd included former President Bill Clinton, actress/rapper Queen Latifah, film producer Spike Lee, heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson and singer Gladys Knight. The Open also reached the second highest attendance total for the first day of play at 71,332.  

After announcing earlier this month that she would be retiring from competitive competition after this year’s US Open, Williams, 41, the younger sister of 42-year-old Venus Williams, a two-time US Open singles champion, could have been playing her final match on Monday. But she did not disappoint the fans who held up signs reading “Welcome to the Williams Show” and “Thank You Serena” upon her entrance onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

Williams advanced to last night’s (Wednesday) second round match versus No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia by defeating 27-year-old Danka Kovinic of Montenegro,  6-3, 6-3, in a match that lasted one hour and 33 minutes. Afterwards, Williams said the night felt surreal.
“I was just thinking, is this for real? Really?” Williams exclaimed in an interview on the court.  “At the same time,  I’m also thinking, I still have a match to play, and I want to be able to play and I want to be able to play up to this reception. 

“It was so loud,” she continued. “I was just overwhelmed in a good way.  At the same time, it’s like you have to be focused. That’s what I need to do, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Many of the fans were seemingly touched seeing Serena’s four-year-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., along with her father, Alexis Ohanian, cheering on her mother from her courtside seat. In a tribute to her mom, Olympia, as she is commonly known, wore the same beaded outfit as Williams. Oympia also had her hair designed with beads, similar to the look of her fashion-conscious mom. It was a throwback to when Williams wore beads in the 1999 Open, the year she won her first title at the tournament. 

Over her illustrious career, Williams has remarkably faced players from 49 different countries and has 102 wins at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the most since the venue opened in 1997. Serena and Venus were extended a wild card bid to compete in the US Open doubles tournament and played Round 1 yesterday. Venus was eliminated from singles play on Tuesday with a 6-1, 7-6 (5) loss to Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium. In other first round matches, Madison Keys, CoCo Gauff and Sloan Stephens all advanced to the second round with victories. Today, historically Black Colleges and Universities will be featured with the theme HBCU Live at the US Open. The concept was introduced by Marisa Grimes, who joined the USTA as its chief diversity and inclusion officer in January. 
“I wanted to do something that focused on honoring HBCUs, and it all started with the idea of creating a yard experience on the grounds of the event,” said Grimes. “I think it’s an amazing experience for both HBCU alums and for general US Open fans who may not be familiar with HBCUs to learn more about their history, schools and their contribution to both tennis and society in general.”

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