Serena Williams takes center stage at the US Open

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They came to the US Open on Monday from afar for Serena – no last name required, suiting someone as much an icon as a superstar athlete – eager to see her play or, if they don’t get the chance holding the right ticket, hoping for an autograph, a peek at her practice, or just the chance to breathe the same Flushing Meadows air as her.

As thousands lined up to enter the tournament grounds hours before its match, then headed to smaller courts for earlier action or just around, waiting and wading in palpable excitement, no one could know for sure how many more opportunities there would be for anyone. People were there to watch, or just think of watching, Serena Williams swings her racquet as she did to 23 Grand Slam singles titles, more than anyone else in the professional era of tennis which began in 1968 , because she said she is Ready to continue from his playing days.

And they were there to honor her and show their appreciation for what she did on and off the court.

Williams was due to play their first-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium against Danka Kovinic, which was due to start shortly after 7 p.m.

She means a lot to a lot of people. As a tennis player. Like a woman. As an African American. As a mother. As a businesswoman.

2022 US Open - Previews
A tennis fan takes her picture in front of a likeness of Serena Williams during the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2022 in Queens, New York.

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“When she started, female athletes weren’t recognized. She’s done so much,” said Quintella Thorn, a 68-year-old from Columbus, Georgia, who is on her eighth trip to the US Open. “And now she’s…”

“Evolving,” chimed Thorn’s friend Cora Monroe, 72, of Shreveport, Louisiana, which she noted is where Richard Williams — Serena’s father and sister Venus, and central figure from the Oscar-winning film “King Richard” – also comes.

This word, “evolve”, is the one that Williams said she preferred to the “retirement” more commonly used when she wrote in an essay for Vogue published about three weeks ago that she was ready to focus on having a second child (his daughter Olympusturns 5 on Thursday) and his venture capital firm.

Although Williams hasn’t exactly said the US Open will definitely be her last tournament — she’s also entered in doubles with Venus, who is 42 and herself a seven-time major singles champion — she made it seem like this would be the case.

“Once Serena announced she would be playing the US Open, we sold out in a nanosecond on Monday night and Tuesday night. You can see in the secondary market that the price of entry is $230. I have saw $5,800 for a courtside seat tonight. Look, this is a historic moment for the Williams family, for Serena, and for our sport,” said Stacey Allaster, U.S. Grand Slam Tournament Director. “It’s so hard to really capture what Serena and Venus have done for the sport of tennis. They’ve transformed our sport. They’ve made us more inclusive. And they’ve transcended sport.”

That’s why Monday counted more than the usual first day of a major tournament. And why the daily program made no mention of any other of the dozens of athletes in action, instead showing a montage of six images of Williams holding her six US Open trophies above the headline: “Serena Williams, A Legacy of Greatness”. And why there was a feeling of lesser importance for matches involving other elite players such as former US Open champions Bianca Andreescu, Andy Murray, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem, or Open runner-up from France Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old American.

2022 US Open - Previews
Fans watch Serena Williams practice before the start of the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 27, 2022 in Queens, New York.

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Kriti Kamath, a 9-year-old girl from Boston, carried an oversized yellow tennis ball in hopes of collecting signatures – possibly even after Williams’ scheduled pre-game hitting session in the evening, before her competition – as she walked outside Ashe with her mother, Neethor Shenoy.

Shenoy spoke to her daughter, who plays tennis, about the importance of Williams.

“She’s very driven. She’s very driven. And she’s an inspiration to all women, all women of color, in particular,” Shenoy said. “She gives a child a positive path to follow.”

The mum said she had traveled from Boston to New York for the US Open since 2004; it was Kriti’s first day of competition, but they were there earlier in the week for “Fan Week”. The US Tennis Association said more than 90,000 free online passes had been downloaded for this period leading up to the main draw, an increase of more than 35% from the last pre-pandemic tournament in 2019.

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Serena Williams celebrates with the championship trophy during the awards ceremony after her victory over Venus Williams in the women’s singles final on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 28, 2017.

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The USTA said it sold more than 16,500 tournament tickets on the day Williams revealed his intentions, more than the previous seven days combined. This included over 4,600 for Monday night alone, making it a sold-out sale.

Monroe and Thorn said they have day and night session tickets, which are sold separately, for each of the first three days of the tournament.

On Monday, the two wore blue T-shirts: Monroe’s featured “Serena” four times in different shades of purple; Thorn wore a black and white photo of Williams alongside the words “Greatest Female Athlete” – with “Female” crossed out.

Monroe said she looked up to the Williams sisters “just for the way they carried themselves; they’re an inspiration”, and that she and Thorn looked forward to being in the stadium for Williams against Kovinic.

“Serena is going to win tonight,” Monroe said. “So we’ll see her again on Wednesday when she plays again.”

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