Since Williams, 40, announced her impending plans to ‘evolve’ from tennis in a first-person essay in Vogue earlier this month, she’s been given something of a farewell tour and received standing ovations both the Canadian Open and the Western & Southern Open.
On Monday night, the sold-out crowd of nearly 24,000 – which included a long list of celebrities and notables, including former President Bill Clinton, Spike Lee, Lindsey Vonn, Bella Hadid, Rebel Wilson, Vera Wang, Queen Latifah, Mike Tyson, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Gladys Knight, Martina Navratilova and even Coco Gauff – was on his feet even before Williams entered the court. After a video narrated by Queen Latifah was shown summarizing her storied career, Williams was introduced to the crowd as the “greatest of all time” to raucous cheers that continued through any break in the action while throughout the game.
It was Williams’ 102nd win at Arthur Ashe Stadium – the most by any player since it opened in 1997 – and extended her record of Grand Slam wins by a woman to 366.
Williams offered a glimpse of her future without tennis competition at a post-match ceremony, telling the crowd, “There are other chapters in life.”
Tickets for Monday’s night session have become a hot commodity after Williams’ announcement. According to TickPick, a secondary ticketing website, the cost to attend Monday’s night session was more expensive than any US Open women’s final on record. The average ticket price in the secondary market was $987 Monday morning, according to ticket analytics firm TicketIQ.
Even his pre-match training session drew thousands of fans who crammed in to sneak into the legend, with rows lined up to catch a glimpse through a chain-link fence.
But despite the fanfare, Williams wasn’t ready to make a career out of it just yet. On Monday, wearing a figure skating-inspired dress with six layers to represent her six US Open titles and matching diamonds in her hair, Williams glided around the court – twirled at the end – and showed flashes of which made him one of the greatest of all time. She had nine aces and notched 22 winners in the 99-minute match.
After witnessing the victory, spectators held up blue, white or red signs which were distributed to their seats to spell out “We (Heart) Serena”.
“Just keep supporting me,” Williams said, “as long as I’m here.”
Rennae Stubbs, the former player-turned-coach and analyst, worked with Williams this week in New York. In an interview with ABC before the game, Stubbs said Williams was nervous but was still preparing for the game and the tournament with the same trademark intensity.
“Practices have been really tough,” Stubbs said Monday. “She’s been training very, very hard this week. She’s been training with other players, which she’s never done in the past. And, you know, she’s trying to do everything that she can look her best tonight.”
Williams will next face the No. 2 seed Anet Kontaveit Wednesday in the second round, in addition to playing doubles alongside her sister Venus. The two have won 14 major titles together as a team, most recently at Wimbledon in 2016. It’s the first time they’ve played together since Roland Garros in 2018.
Venus, 42, has not revealed any retirement plans but has played sparingly over the past year.