It wasn’t always—or even mostly—pretty, but at the end of the night, it was Serena Williams who moved on to the second round of the U.S. Open in New York, beating Danka Kovinić of Montenegro 6-3, 6-3. With both Serena and Kovinic playing a halting, error-prone kind of stop-start tennis that featured as many double faults as aces in the early going, it took until midway through the second set for the 23-time Grand Slam champion to find her groove.
But find it she did—with a little help from a fervent crowd that included her mother, Oracene; daughter, Olympia; and husband, Alexis Ohanian; along with former President Bill Clinton, Queen Latifah, Hugh Jackman, Spike Lee, Bella Hadid, Offset, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, among many other celebrities, athletes, and celebrity-athletes. (LeBron James, who couldn’t be there, tweeted at her in the first set to “Keep that serve going, [GOAT]!!!!”)
Introduced, on entering Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, as simply “the greatest of all time: Serena Williams,” she walked out (to the tune of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” by Ye) in an all-black Nike look, replete with a waist cape and warm-up jacket—both of them adorned with glittering crystals—and custom shoes featuring 400 hand-set diamonds, solid gold deubré, and the word “Queen” on the laces.
After the match, a special tribute ceremony—planned in advance, whether Serena won or lost—featured tributes from Billie Jean King and Gayle King, along with the 20,000-strong crowd displaying cards that spelled out “We [heart] Serena.” And when King asked the queen what—after giving so much to tennis fans—they could do for her, Serena said only: “Just keep coming out and supporting me as long as I’m here, and know that I love you—I’m so excited to be here.”
Next up: Serena plays the tournament’s number-two seed, Anett Kontaveit, on Wednesday. (She also lines up on the same side of the net as her sister Venus for doubles, likely on Thursday.) And while that would seem to be a test of a different order, should she make it through that round, the sky’s the limit.