NEW YORK – Serena Williams reminded New York on Monday night why she is the GOAT.
Something about playing under the city lights at a Grand Slam brought out the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s best tennis after not finding that momentum in over a year. In dominant fashion, the tennis legend defeated Montenegro’s Danka Kovinić 6-3, 6-3.
“At this point, honestly, everything is a bonus for me I feel,” Williams said after the match. “The next one is even more difficult. It's good that I was able to get this under my belt… I'm just thinking about just this moment. I think it's good for me just to live in the moment now.”
The fans were clearly enthused as well, setting an all-time night-session attendance record with 29,402 fans coming to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Here are five takeaways from Williams’ first round match:
Serena Williams leaves it all out there at Grand Slams
I could easily say that the Serena Williams the tennis world saw on Monday night looked like a completely different competitor than what we all have been seeing in her past few tournaments.
Whether it was the court, the fans, the occasion or the timing, it all worked for Williams.
I hate to use this extreme word, but Williams’ performance against British Emma Raducanu at the Western & Southern Open was atrocious. I even questioned if she wanted to be there.
Seeing her excitement, legendary fist pumps and “come on’s” made me realize she has something left in the tank.
Also, a major kudos to the U.S. Open for not canceling the post-match retirement celebration despite the win. I think catching her when she was on a high rather than after a loss was one of the best moves possible.
Serena Williams played her best tennis in over a year
There is no doubt that Serena Williams played her best tennis in over a year.
Miraculously, the 23-time Grand Slam champion was moving quite well. But more than anything, her ball placement was exceptional. She had her opponent running all over the court for the majority of the match.
It’s no secret that when Williams is serving well, she is very hard to beat. That was the case tonight. Her winning percentage on her first serve was a dominant 76%, adding nine aces to the equation.
Danka Kovinić needed to play a bit more scrappy to throw Williams off, throwing in some slices from each wing and even a few drop shots. When she did, she was pretty much in control of the points.
One of my favorite things about Williams’ performance tonight was her net play. This is not something she is always good at, but when her serve and her transition game are on point, it is difficult to get past her.
Whether it was Williams’ swinging volleys or volleys, she had the court covered at all angles.
Serena Williams shined in her customized Swarovski match kit
Williams truly shined bright like a diamond when she walked out at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Williams wore a draping, cape-like sparkly piece that added intensity to her already dramatic on-court look.
Her complete look featured black NikeCourt Flare 2 shoes, part of her jewelry collection, that were glistening in Swarovski crystals. Williams also rocked out in a figure skating-inspired Nike dress composed of six layers to represent all the titles she has won at the Slam.
What truly caught my attention was all the diamonds embedded in her hair. I had never seen that before and would typically make fun of someone wearing it, but the GOAT somehow pulled it off.
Serena Williams has a lot of celebrity love
I guess you can say icons attract.
Williams had a long list of celebrities at her match that featured Hollywood stars all the way to politicians.
Hollywood stars Rebel Wilson, Anthony Anderson, Anthony Anderson, Hugh Jackman and Spike Lee with his son.
Other notable guests included New York Mets' Francisco Lindor, Mike Tyson, Gayle King, Anna Wintour, Vera Wang and former President Bill Clinton and Ruth Westheimer.
Serena Williams ‘Rena’s Army’ is extremely dedicated
Last but certainly not least, Williams’ fan base, also called “Rena’s Army,” are diehards.
Since Monday morning, fans have been camping outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium just to catch a glimpse of the GOAT.
I heard one woman say, “Do you think I will be able to see her walk out of this door?”
And that’s not even all of it.
Fans from literally around the world had traveled to see Williams play one last time in person.
A stand-out squad was a group of five ladies from Indiana, repping homemade Williams shirts. The front of their shirts read “Unapologetic Greatness The GOAT” while the back said “She played the game like her life depended on it and … She changed the game forever!”
During the match, superfans were screaming, “I love you, Serena” after points, followed up by someone else saying, “I love you more, Serena.”
There was also a lot of positive reinforcement for Williams during points, which is technically not allowed, but fans were fine with breaking rules for the GOAT.
What’s next for Serena Williams?
Williams has a tough but winnable second round against No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit.
The match is winnable because Kontaveit has been taking a bunch of losses recently to players that I wouldn’t consider extremely difficult.
This year, Kontaveit lost in the second round of the Australian Open, the first round of the French Open and the second round of Wimbledon.
My gut is still telling me that we will be saying goodbyes to Williams in her next round, but if she serves the way she did today, she could possibly pull off an upset.
Beyond Williams’ second round, she was asked if the U.S. Open would definitely be the last tournament of her career. She answered, “I've been pretty vague about it, right (smiling)? I'm going to stay vague because you never know.”
Who knows, maybe the U.S. Open won’t be the end of her legendary career.