They travelled from far and wide to watch Serena — no last name necessary, befitting someone as much an icon as superstar athlete — practise, play, and, as it turned out, win a match at the U.S. Open on Monday night.
Record crowds filled Arthur Ashe Stadium to cheer and applaud alongside her.
Serena Williams isn't quite prepared to leave just yet. Evidently, neither are her followers. They were audible and clear to her.
Williams overcame a shaky start to defeat Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-3 in her opening match at what is anticipated to be the final U.S. Open — and tournament — of her remarkable playing career, even if she insists that she won't quite say so.
The victory took place in an environment more akin to a festival than a farewell.
"The welcome I received when I left was really overwhelming. I could feel it in my chest, and it was loud. The player with six U.S. Open victories and 23 Grand Slam victories overall—
numbers unmatched by any other player in the history of the sport's professional era—said, "It was a really good feeling.
It's a sensation I'll always remember, she continued. Yes, that was very meaningful to me.
It became an event with a capital "E" during this opening matchup against Kovinic, a 27-year-old Montenegrin player who is ranked 80th.
Spike Lee took part in the coin toss before the game. Bill Clinton, a former president, sat in the audience.