Serena Williams' remarkable run in her final grand slam continued to gather pace on Thursday as she reached the US Open women's singles third round with a 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-2 triumph over Anett Kontaveit.

The record-breaking 23-time major winner may be set to step away from tennis following the conclusion of this year's event at Flushing Meadows, where she is also partnered with sister Venus in women's doubles.

But her latest victory arguably ranks as one of the most impressive she has racked up in recent years, with the record-extending stats underneath her win backing up her place in the sporting pantheon.

Williams has now won 367 matches in grand slam tournaments, comfortably extending her Open Era record for women's tennis and moving her within two of Roger Federer's outright record of 369.

In turning over Kontaveit, she also made it 10 victories against top-two seeded opponents in grand slam tournaments on the trot, last losing such a match at the 2007 US Open against Justine Henin.

In addition, it also brought up 100 US Open match victories when winning the opening set, with Williams having only tasted defeat on a further three occasions when striking first at this major.

Serena Williams says this is the most free she has felt on a tennis court in over 20 years after shocking world number two Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-2 to advance to the third round of the US Open.

Williams, 40, found another gear in the deciding set as she rode the wave of momentum that came from the raucous, sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

While Williams rose to the occasion, Kontaveit folded, posting three winners and 11 unforced errors in the third set, allowing the all-time great to secure the victory with a break-to-love.

On the court after the match – after a recorded video message from Oprah Winfrey also aired after Monday's win over Danka Kovinic – Williams said while everyone else may have been surprised by the result, she still has supreme confidence in her abilities.

"Well, I'm a pretty good player," she said playfully. "You know, this is what I do best. 

"I love a challenge. I love rising to the challenge. Yeah, I haven't played many matches, but I've been practicing really well. 

"In my last few matches, it just wasn't coming together. I'm like, this isn't me. The last couple matches here in New York, it's really come together."

Williams admitted that she thought to herself "this could be it" after dropping the second set, but highlighted the fact that this is the first time in over 20 years that she does not feel like she has a target on her back.

"Honestly, I'm just looking at [this run] as a bonus," she said. "I don't have anything to prove. I don't have anything to win. I have absolutely nothing to lose.

"Honestly, I never get to play like this since '98 really. Literally, I've had an 'X' on my back since '99. It's kind of fun.

"I really enjoy just coming out and enjoying it. It's been a long time since I've been able to do that."

Lastly, Williams talked about what it will be like to step back out onto the doubles court with sister Venus Williams on Friday night.

"I'm so excited for doubles," she said. "It's like, it's been so long. We got to play again, we got to bring the reunion back.

"I'm excited to play with Venus, get some more practice – because I could use the matches."

Serena Williams gave the celebrity-laden crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night a taste of her very best, pulling through in the third set to defeat world number two Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4-7) 2-6 6-2.

The two-hour-and-27-minute victory sees Williams, who has announced her intention to evolve out of playing tennis after the US Open, move into the third round where she will face Australian world number 46 Ajla Tomjlanovic.

The opening set had Williams' power serving game on full display, winning 89 per cent (24-of-27) of the points when she landed her first serve fair, while producing six break point opportunities in her return game while only facing three.

She could only convert one of those break point chances, going up 5-4 with a chance to serve out the set, before handing the break straight back, leading to a tiebreaker.

Of the 11 tiebreaker points, only one went against the serve, with Williams seizing her opportunity to secure the opening frame.

As Williams' serve fell off in the second set – only winning 50 per cent of her successful first serves – Kontaveit fought her way back into the game, producing a clean set as she hit 13 winners to only three unforced errors, wrapping up the frame in a snappy 36 minutes to take it to a decider.

After holding serve to open the set, Williams then took a 2-0 lead as she was able to convert her third break point chance of the marathon 13-point game. That was followed with a 12-point game where Kontaveit was able to break back, as the 40-year-old American was visibly slowing down the longer the match dragged on.

As Williams' energy reserves began to run low, she tried to compensate with as many one-shot rallies as possible, going for sink-or-swim drives down the line and across the court – resulting in some spectacular winners, but also an increase in unforced errors.

It turned out to be the right strategy as Kontaveit continued to have trouble with Williams' power, giving up the late break again to go down 3-1 before the living legend consolidated her advantage with a hold-to-love, sending the crowd wild as they could see the finish line.

With Tiger Woods in her players' box cheering her on, Williams secured a point from a 19-shot rally as the atmosphere hit fever pitch, and despite the effort required in that point, she was able to repel another break point opportunity to hold and go 5-2 up.

Ultimately, the cauldron inside the sold-out stadium proved too much for Kontaveit, who could not find winners down the stretch. She posted three winners and 11 unforced errors in the final set, including a double-fault in her final service game as she was broken-to-love to secure the stunning result.

Data Slam: Serena continues to win the big matches

Williams has now won her last 10 grand slam matches against opponents ranked in the top-two, with her last loss coming to Justine Henin 15 years ago at the 2007 US Open.

She has also only lost three of her previous 104 US open matches when she has won the first set, and is 42-0 in the opening two rounds at Flushing Meadows.


Williams – 38/39

Kontaveit – 30/27 


Williams – 11/6

Kontaveit – 5/5 


Williams – 5/12

Kontaveit – 5/11

The hype around Serena Williams' potential swansong tournament is "the biggest thing I've ever seen in women's tennis", says Torben Beltz, the coach of her next opponent Anett Kontaveit.

Williams has announced she is soon to retire, and the US Open is widely expected to be her final tournament.

The 23-time grand slam champion came through in straight sets in her first-round match against Danka Kovinic to set up a tough meeting with world number two Kontaveit on Wednesday.

Beltz wanted to watch Williams' opening match but could not do so after Arthur Ashe Stadium sold out, with reports of tickets on the secondary market on sale for around $1,000.

And Beltz says he has not seen anything like it, telling the New York Times: "I couldn't get a ticket. 

"This is the biggest thing I've ever seen in women's tennis. I think it's the greatest thing for the sport, and we all have to thank Serena for all she did. Especially right now with the end coming."

While Beltz's charge Kontaveit is favourite for the second-round match, the Estonian's coach knows it will be a tough match against the six-time US Open champion.

"I think her ball speed, serve and return is really up to her prime time," Beltz added.

"I saw her other matches, and it looks like she's improved over the last couple of weeks. She looks in better shape and looks good now.

"For Anett, I think the key is to just go out and try to play her best tennis but also enjoy the moment. It's going to be a big challenge, a great challenge, but I think she wants that challenge and wants to embrace it."

Venus Williams says she is "focused" on her US Open women's doubles pairing with sister Serena following her first round exit to Alison Van Uytvanck on Tuesday, adding that she couldn't turn down "the boss" one more time.

The seven-time grand slam singles champion saw her solo stint at Flushing Meadows come to an early end following a 6-1 7-6 (7-5) straight sets loss to the Belgian at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Following younger sister Serena's announcement earlier this year that she intended to step back from top-level tennis following the conclusion of the final tennis major of the year, many had wondered if Venus would follow suit.

But speaking after her defeat, Williams eschewed questions on her future, simply stating: "Right now, I'm just focused on the doubles."

The return of the Williams sister pairing – the only duo to have won the Career Golden Slam in women's doubles – has added a further degree of excitement to Serena's farewell tour.

When asked how their on-court reunion came about, Venus stated it was her sibling who got the ball rolling, adding: "It was Serena's idea.

"She's the boss, so I do whatever she tells me to do! I don't think we have played since 2016, but I might be getting that wrong. We have had some great wins. It would be nice to add some more."

Former world number one Williams made her 91st grand slam main draw singles appearance with her match against Van Uytvanck, a record for both the men's and women's game.

It is a testament to her longevity that 58 players in the main draw had not been born when she made her grand slam debut at the 1996 French Open – including this year's Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who also suffered a first round loss to the unseeded Clara Burel.

Serena Williams is "looking better every day" and only she could handle the US Open hoopla that surrounds her, according to world number one Iga Swiatek.

In a febrile atmosphere, Williams made a winning start to her final Flushing Meadows campaign on Monday night, getting the better of Montenegrin Danka Kovinic.

A 6-3 6-3 first-round win over the world number 80 prompted Williams to break out in a jig of delight, and now world number two Anett Kontaveit awaits the great American in round two.

Williams will returns to Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday evening, when she is certain of another big reception and overwhelming support.

Kovinic's best winners barely received a smattering of applause, while her mistakes were often cheered by some in the crowd.

The crowd's partisanship could again come into play when 23-time grand slam singles champion Williams, who is planning on retiring after this tournament, tackles a tough task against Kontaveit.

Swiatek watched the opening games on Monday and remarked that she had "got tight just by watching", feeling all the strain Williams was under.

"So I realised that I need to stop," said a smiling Swiatek. "I can't imagine what she must feel, having this kind of atmosphere around her and just finishing.

"I know she's doing a tournament, but I feel like yesterday it was like people did so much work to show appreciation to what she's done. It's pretty amazing. I have never seen something like it.

"For sure it was like the most popular first round of a slam ever. I'm pretty happy that she can experience something like that. I also feel that not every player would handle that kind of fuss around your first match of the tournament.

"She's handling it pretty well, as usual. So that's just confirmation of how great she is."

Williams came onto the court in a glittery tennis dress and cape, along with jewel-encrusted tennis shoes, with Swiatek describing the outfit as "pretty cool".

With two grand slam titles to her name, the 21-year-old Swiatek is among the favourites to be champion in New York.

When she watched the fanfare and ceremony for Williams, along with the first couple of games, it brought it home to Swiatek just why many regard the 40-year-old as the GOAT – greatest of all time.

"It was kind of too much for me even watching that. I realise how she must feel, but she is kind of used to it more than us," Swiatek said.

"We never had such attention around us, because she's just a GOAT. She has it probably for most of her career, so I guess she's used to it. But for me, just watching that, I was pretty shocked."

Swiatek refused to predict how the Kontaveit match would go. The Estonian is ranked second largely because of her strong run of form at the back end of last season, with recent results not so impressive or consistent.

"I feel like against Serena – I have never experienced that, so I just assume – it's all about your mindset and mentality," said French Open champion Swiatek, who beat Italian Jasmine Paolini 6-3 6-0 on Tuesday.

"I know Anett can play great tennis. It's not a mistake that she's second in the world right now. But on the other hand, I feel like Serena is looking better and better every day."

Despite suggesting this year's US Open will be her final tournament before retirement, Serena Williams said "you never know" after her first round victory against Danka Kovinic.

The 23-time grand slam winner was made to work for the win, but strong support from the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium helped Williams over the line in a 6-3 6-3 success on Monday.

In a recent interview with Vogue Magazine, Williams indicated she was ready to move on to the next stage of her life, signalling an intent to bring her decorated career to an end after the event at Flushing Meadows.

Asked about her intentions during the post-match press conference, Williams said while smiling: "Yeah, I've been pretty vague about [retirement], right? I'm going to stay vague because you never know."

Williams credited the atmosphere, admitting it meant a lot to her to have such a strong following against her Montenegrin opponent.

"I think when I walked out, the reception was really overwhelming. It was loud and I could feel it in my chest. It was a really good feeling. It's a feeling I'll never forget, so... yeah, that meant a lot to me," she said.

"I was just thinking, like, 'Is this for real? Really?' At the same time, I'm also thinking 'I still have a match to play and I want to be able to play up to this reception almost.'

"It was so loud. I just was overwhelmed, in a good way. But at the same time it's like you have to be focused, you have to be laser-focused. That's what I needed to do and that's what I tried to do."

The 40-year-old plays number two seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round on Wednesday, and she did go on to seemingly confirm she intends to hang up her racquet once her tournament is over.

"The more tournaments I play, I feel like the more I can belong out there," she added. "That's a tough feeling to have, and to leave knowing the more you do it, the more you can shine.

"But it's time for me, you know, to evolve to the next thing. I think it's important because there's so many other things that I want to do."

Serena Williams joined elite company in the final tournament of her playing career becoming the fourth player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam match in her teens, 20s, 30s and 40s.

Williams joined 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova, former world number four and three-time major semi-finalist Kimiko Date Krumm and six-time major winner and sister Venus Williams in achieving the feat.

The American's 6-3 6-3 win over Danka Kovinic in the US Open first round on Monday comes ahead of her 41st birthday next month, with Williams aged 40 years and 337 days.

The 40-year-old has been lauded for her decorated playing career, highlighted by 23 Grand Slam titles, but none of that is possible without endurability.

Williams's career spans 27 years, having turned professional in 1995 and having first played in a major in 1998 at the Australian Open. She played in that year's US Open too and has won every first-round match at Flushing Meadows in her career (21).

The ceremony and pomp after Monday's win was bigger than ever, with words from Oprah Winfrey and Billie Jean King along with an extended interview conducted by Gayle King with Williams, followed by a crowd display of signs reading "We love Serena".

It all offered a level of finality, despite Williams still being live in the tournament, albeit with a tougher test against second seed Anett Kontaveit to come on Wednesday.

Despite all that Williams, who has steered clear of the word retirement instead using "evolution", teased reporters when she replied to a question about the US Open definitively being her final tournament with a smile: "Yeah, I've been pretty vague about it, right? I'm going to stay vague because you never know."

Serena Williams says the "crazy" crowd support she received in Monday's US Open first-round clash with Danka Kovinic helped will her over the line for a hard-fought victory.

The 40-year-old, who will end her decorated playing career after this year's US Open, triumphed in one hour and 39 minutes with a 6-3 6-3 win amid raucous scenes at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It was a star-studded turnout at the stadium to watch what could have been Williams' last singles' match, but the six-time US Open winner proved too good, extending her farewell campaign.

Despite staying live in the tournament, Williams was honoured with a lengthy post-match ceremony including addresses from Oprah Winfrey and Billie Jean King and an extended interview with Gayle King, followed by a pre-organised crowd display where letters on cards showed the words "We Love Serena".

The 23-time Grand Slam champion appeared nervy early, including two double faults in the first game, and letting a 2-0 lead slip to trail by a break at 2-3 in the first set.

Williams won the next four games to clinch the opening frame and was decisive in the second set.

"The crowd was crazy," Williams said. "It really helped pull me through… I was really calm. Yes, I got this."

The triumph marked the first step on Williams' farewell tour at the US Open, although she has a sterner test next in the second round against second seed Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday which will likely attract another wild crowd.

"Just keep coming out and supporting me as long as I'm here, and know that I love you so much and I'm so excited to be here," Williams said.

Williams was asked about her decision to move on from playing tennis, which she described as her "evolution" rather than retirement in an essay in Vogue.

"It's been a very hard decision," she said.

"I think when you're passionate about something and you love something so much, it's always hard to walk away.

"Sometimes I think it's harder to walk away than to not. That's been the case for me. I've been trying to decide for a little while what to do.

"I think now's the time. I just have a family. There's other chapters in life. I call it evolution."

Serena Williams battled nerves early but has commenced their US Open farewell campaign with a first-round victory over Danka Kovinic in front of a loud Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd on Monday.

The 22-time major champion, who will end her decorated tennis career after the Flushing Meadows tournament, triumphed in one hour and 39 minutes over the unseeded Montenegrin 6-3 6-3.

Williams will face a bigger test next on Wednesday against second seed Anett Kontaveit who eased past Jaqueline Cristian 6-3 6-0.

Given Williams' impending retirement, there was a sense of expectation but also trepidation inside the star-studded center court and the 40-year-old appeared nervous early on with two double faults in a row in the first game.

But after a topsy turvy first set that included five breaks of serve, Williams eventually got a stronghold of the contest.

Williams improved as the match wore on, hitting 23-18 winners, with Kovinic having 28-9 forced errors.

Kovinic won three games in a row after Williams led 2-0 early, but the American responded in the sixth game to break back to square it up and never looked back.

Williams was forced to save four break points in an epic service game before converting set point after back-to-back aces.

The six-time US Open champion broke Kovinic in the fifth game of the second set to assert her control on the contest, before clinching the match by breaking to love.

Kovinic – 18/25 
Williams – 23/25

Kovinic – 6/8 
Williams – 9/6

Kovinic – 2/10
Williams – 5/11

Nick Kyrgios declared he would welcome an early exit from the US Open ahead of his first-round match against Thanasi Kokkinakis, claiming he remains "exhausted" following his run to the Wimbledon final.

Kyrgios came close to clinching his first grand slam title when he met Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final in July, taking the opener but ultimately succumbing to defeat in four sets on Centre Court.

The enigmatic Australian, who has never gone beyond the third round of the US Open, will begin his final major campaign of the year against his compatriot and doubles partner Kokkinakis on Monday.

But the 27-year-old is not enamoured by the prospect of a deep run in New York, revealing he struggles with being away from his homeland while playing on the ATP Tour.

"A big part of me just wants the US Open to be over so I can go home," he said on Sunday.

"It's brutal not being able to have the normality of your own bed or your own family for so long and then you have to deal with all this.

"The media, the fans, the training, the matches, the pressure, especially on my spectrum as well – it's not normal. So it's hard. It's really hard.

"I'm definitely feeling very exhausted. Just after Wimbledon, I didn't even have time to enjoy it.

"Everyone gets to go home on the tour. They get to take a cheeky little flight back home to reset. There's just no other type of tennis player who really understands that [homesickness] apart from the Australians.

"Whether I win or lose, it's going to be the same for me. It's a win-win for me. If I win, it's more money and another great result. If I lose, I get to go home."

Asked what he had gained from his thrilling Wimbledon run, Kyrgios said: "The confidence in myself to be able to do it over two weeks. Staying in a single spot for two to three weeks can be exhausting. 

"To know that I can do that and go about things the right way and take every practice session, every recovery session, the right way, it's confidence in the back of my mind. 

"But also, I'm the type of player that if I had won Wimbledon, I probably wouldn't have played the US Open."

Meanwhile, the US Open is set to mark a final grand slam appearance for legendary 23-time major singles champion Serena Williams, and Kyrgios believes she deserves to be considered the greatest player in the sport's history.

"Obviously it's a very special moment for her. She's probably the greatest of all time," he added.

"Whether or not we see anyone live the career that she has? I don't think that's possible."

Serena Williams will go out with "full force" when she begins her final US Open campaign before retiring, according to Chris Evert.

Williams will have one last chance to match Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 grand slam singles titles at Flushing Meadows, as well as an opportunity to wave goodbye to her adoring fans on home soil.

While a challenge for the trophy looks highly improbable for Williams this time around, fellow six-time US Open winner Evert suspects the 40-year-old will take some shifting from the draw.

According to Evert, "the edge is off" when it comes to Williams and her remaining tennis goals, meaning she has reconciled herself to the likelihood of finishing her career with 23 singles majors.

Williams has revealed family matters and business interests were key to her decision to "evolve away" from the sport, and with her on-court returns diminishing, now seems the time to head in that direction.

Yet Evert can see Williams, who faces Danka Kovinic in round one in New York, giving a good account of herself during her US Open swansong.

"Serena isn't coming out to play her last match; she's coming out with full force," Evert said on ESPN. 

"The way she's been practising this week, she's here to compete, she's here to win, and I don't even think she's thinking about retirement at this stage."

Williams holds a 106-14 win-loss record in singles at the US Open. Her match wins tally at Flushing Meadows is the highest by any woman at the competition in the Open Era, and only Martina Navratilova has more at a single slam, achieving an astonishing 120 victories at Wimbledon.

Williams and Evert lead the way in women's US Open titles in the professional era (since 1968), and regardless of final grand slam tallies, there will always be debate over who ranks as the greatest player of all time.

Williams certainly has a strong case, yet Navratilova (1,442), Evert (1,309) and Steffi Graf (900) all won more WTA-level matches than Williams (856), who often played a limited schedule.

Court has the most grand slam titles on the women's all-time list, with a remarkable haul of 64 when women's doubles and mixed doubles are included. Navratilova is next with 59, before Williams and Billie Jean King sit joint third with 39 majors apiece.

Scheduling self-preservation has allowed Williams to play on for so long, and John McEnroe has raised the question of what might happen if his fellow American surprises herself by clinching a seventh Flushing Meadows triumph. 

"If she did happen to win this, don't you think it'd be tempting to go and break the record?" McEnroe asked.

Four-time US Open singles champion McEnroe added: "I think she's accepting, as much as Serena Williams can, that she's not going to win this.

"Maybe deep down she's found some sort of belief that maybe somehow, if she gets the right set of situations going, she can make a real run."

More realistic, in McEnroe's mind, is the prospect of Williams and sister Venus having a deep run in the doubles after they were handed a wildcard.

As a partnership, the siblings have won 14 grand slam doubles titles, never losing in a final at the majors.

"The two of them in doubles, where they're covering half the court and they're still able to do their thing, that would be a hell of a way to go out," McEnroe said.

Serena Williams' former coach Rick Macci does not foresee a dream US Open triumph for the retiring legend, but believes the Flushing Meadows crowd could help her enjoy a strong run.

Williams, who announced she was "evolving away" from tennis earlier this month, will begin her final US Open campaign against Danka Kovinic on Monday.

While the 40-year-old's tally of 23 grand slam titles is the most of any player in the Open Era (since 1968), she remains one victory short of Margaret Court's all-time record of 24. 

But Macci, who coached both Williams and older sister Venus at the beginning of their trophy-laden careers, struggles to see her adding one final title before signing off.

"They asked me can Serena Williams win the US Open and I said she already has, six times," Macci told Stats Perform. 

"Can she? It's highly unlikely simply because people aren't afraid of her, the movement and confidence aren't like it was because she hasn't played, she hasn't played that much in the last year and you need to play to get your footwork and stamina. 

"The fighting spirit, the Compton street fight and the heart is there. If she gets a good draw, she could beat some people. I like how she played against [Emma] Raducanu [a 6-4 6-0 loss in Cincinnati earlier in August], I like that she's more aggressive, but this takes time. 

"If she can win a few matches who knows what could happen? That crowd in New York is going to take her down memory lane and make her even more competitive, who knows what's going to happen to the person on the other side of the net?


"That's why I was so impressed with Raducanu, the way she handled that moment, she played the best match she had in a year. 

"It cuts both ways but it's highly unlikely she can win the Open. 

"She's not even looking at it like that, she's letting everyone savour the moment and going out on her terms and it's going to be must-see tv."

Asked who he thought would emerge victorious at Flushing Meadows, Macci tipped another American to win on home soil, adding: "I'd love to see Coco Gauff because I know the family and I think she has wonderful potential.

"Iga [Swiatek] is vulnerable now because when you win 35 in a row, you feel like you just show up you're going to win. 

"Now that she's lost a few there's a little doubt there. It's wide open, I'm going to go out on a limb and I'm taking Coco Gauff."

As for the men's draw, which appears balanced after Novak Djokovic's non-vaccinated status prevented him from travelling to New York, Macci thinks third seed Carlos Alcaraz could be set for a maiden grand slam win.

"I've already gone out there and talked about this, Carlos Alcaraz is a generational player, he's going to transcend the game," Macci added.

"I've already had people blow back on me like, 'why isn't he winning?' Trust me, he just turned 19 and is [number] four or five in the world, I think he'll win multiple grand slams and he's the next real deal and he's my favourite to win the US Open on the men's side."

Djokovic is not alone in missing the US Open, with Roger Federer also absent as he continues his recovery from knee surgery, while Rafael Nadal is making his first appearance at the slam since triumphing in 2019.

Four different men have tasted success at Flushing Meadows in the last four years, while each of the last three editions have featured different women's singles champions, and Macci believes the issues endured by several ageing greats have made tennis more competitive.


"I think a lot of people are heading toward exit stage left and they're not quite at the top, [such as] Federer, or maybe there's the vaccination and maybe Nadal you're not quite where you were and [Andy] Murray," he added.

"Then you've got Serena, you've got these people who are household names that are out of the equation, more people are coming in and it changes everything when you don't have those roadblocks at the round of 16. 

"You're looking at the semis when before, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray just dominated. There was a time when those four were always in the semis. The women's you could almost predict, now you can't.

"It has nothing to do with the US Open because the young lady that won Wimbledon [Elena Rybakina], you never heard of her. It's just wide open and it's going to take a while to stabilise everything." 

Serena Williams begins her final US Open singles mission on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night – with opponent Danka Kovinic describing her own opportunity as "a privilege and an honour".

Kovinic, the world number 80 from Montenegro, essentially serves as the support act to headliner Williams, who will draw a full house to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the opening match of the evening session.

If Kovinic has her way, she will be the player who ends Williams' singles career, and the 27-year-old has reached the third round of both the Australian Open and French Open this year.

However, Kovinic is on a five-match losing streak that began with a loss to eventual champion Iga Swiatek in round three of the French Open.

Such a dismal run has prompted some, including American tennis great Chris Evert, to suggest Williams has been handed a favourable draw. Williams has scored just one win in four matches since launching a tour comeback at Wimbledon, however.

"I was warming up for practice [on Thursday] and my coach told me, 'You play Serena', and I was like, 'That's great', because honestly I felt that," Kovinic said of her draw.

"It's such a privilege and honour. It is a special moment for me as well. I never had an opportunity to practice with Serena. Hopefully I won't feel too much pressure on Ashe Stadium."

Kovinic, who beat reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in round two of the Australian Open, said she and her coaching team would devise a plan to take on 23-time grand slam singles winner Williams.

She said she also intended to sound out former world number one Jelena Jankovic, a personal friend, for advice on how to tackle a player many regard as the greatest of all time.

"Hopefully she will have some good tips to give me," Kovinic told ESPN.

Jankovic won four of her 14 matches against a prime era Williams.

Williams, who turns 41 next month, is assured of passionate support from the New York crowd. She is a six-time US Open singles winner, first taking the title as a 17-year-old in 1999, when she beat Martina Hingis.

"I had some experience on the big stages this year, with Swiatek and with Emma Raducanu," said Kovinic, "but I think this is something special."

She said she had not given particular thought to the prospect of beating Williams, and it could be an overwhelming experience, given the heightened sense of occasion.

"I think maybe 30 minutes before the match I will have nerves because I couldn't wait to step on court," Kovinic said. "Hopefully I can show a great game."

If Williams is beaten in round one at Flushing Meadows, her career will not quite be over. She would still have a doubles assignment to come after she and sister Venus decided to have one last dash at glory together.

Jordan. Ali. Woods. Williams. That's it, that's the company.

Serena Williams is about to draw the curtain on one of the great sporting careers.

A brilliant black sports star excelling on a global stage, she has shifted and shaped opinions over the past 25 years.

Her life has been touched by tragedy as well as great joy, and she has just about lived to tell the tale.

As she prepares for her final US Open, Stats Perform looks back at the obstacles that have been put in front of the 23-time grand slam champion. 

Racism since her early days

After learning the game in Compton, Williams and sister Venus endured plenty of outrageous treatment before a notorious incident in 2001 at Indian Wells.

Russian Elena Dementieva reacted to a quarter-final defeat to Venus by saying the semi-final between the sisters would be determined by their father, Richard. That baseless allegation of manipulation was followed by an injured Venus withdrawing from the match against Serena shortly before its start time.

Serena met Kim Clijsters in the final, and there were grim jeers for Venus and Richard when both took their grandstand seats. They and Serena copped brutal treatment from spectators, with Richard stating he was racially abused.

Serena beat Clijsters but did not play at Indian Wells again until 2015, recalling her memories of 2001 in an article for Time, explaining it had "haunted" the family, particularly her father.

She wrote: "He dedicated his whole life to prepping us for this incredible journey, and there he had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South."

Williams told Sirius XM in February 2021: "I had to make people realise that it's okay to be black and to play tennis."

Sexism never far away

Williams considered causing a scene at Wimbledon in 2011 after being sent out to the distant Court Two to play a second-round match.

It seemed a bizarre move – probably just ignorant – to put the defending women's champion anywhere but Centre or Court One, and while she was reluctant to fully vent her frustration, it was obvious enough.

Seemingly pointing a finger at those in power, Williams said: "They're not going to change."

An angry Williams accused chair umpire Carlos Ramos of sexism in a stormy 2018 US Open final, when she lost to Naomi Osaka.

Williams was warned for receiving coaching on court, which she denied, then penalised a point for racket abuse, before being docked a game after accusing Ramos of being "a thief".

"I'm here fighting for women's rights and for women's equality and for all kinds of stuff," Williams said afterwards. "For me to say 'thief' and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He's never taken a game from a man because they said 'thief'."

Williams was fined $17,000 by tournament chiefs but backed by the WTA, which runs the women's tour outside the slams.

Perilous childbirth

In February 2018, Williams wrote an article for CNN that began with the line: "I almost died after giving birth to my daughter, Olympia."

She wrote of having had "a pretty easy pregnancy" and a routine C-section in August 2017, only for that to be followed by a pulmonary embolism and "a slew of health complications" she was "lucky to have survived", including a large hematoma in her abdomen. Her first six weeks as a mother were spent in bed.

Sister's death

It was September 2003, shortly after Williams underwent knee surgery that forced her out of the US Open, that her sister Yetunde Price was shot and killed in Compton.

Price was 31, with a local gangster sentenced to 15 years for voluntary manslaughter.

Williams addressed court after the April 2006 sentencing of Price's killer, saying she had "wanted to let you know that this was unfair to our family, and our family has always been positive and we always try to help people".

In 2018, Williams was trounced 6-1 6-0 by British player Johanna Konta at the Silicon Valley Classic. She came onto court moments after learning the man who shot her sister dead had been freed from prison, and later told Time: "I couldn't shake it out of my mind."

Walking on broken glass

It's an idiom, and an Annie Lennox song, but walking on broken glass was almost the moment that ended Williams' career.

It could have been a case of unlucky 13 for Williams in July 2010 when within days of winning her 13th grand slam title she suffered a foot injury, and later revealed it had been caused by stepping on glass while leaving a Munich restaurant.

She told USA Today: "I was standing, recovering, thinking I got a little cut and telling my nephew, who was with us, to be careful. Then my practice partner put a cellphone down to the floor so we could see, and there was a huge puddle of blood. I said, 'OMG, I don't think this is good'."

She needed both feet stitching up and underwent surgery to fix a drooping big toe, missing almost a full year on tour. Early in 2011 she underwent treatment for a pulmonary embolism and blood clot in her lungs, after checks were carried out during her recovery.

Chasing Court

Margaret Court has been the figure Williams has chased but looks destined to fall short of, with the Australian set to remain tantalisingly out of reach.

Four final losses for Williams since landing her 23rd major have been increasingly agonising, and it has been clear that her primary motivation for playing on all this time has been to surpass Court.

Court's controversial views on the LGBTQ community have upset many in tennis. Williams, however, just wanted to finish top of the pile, regardless of who was presently leading the way in the grand slam race.

Barring a sporting near-miracle over the US Open fortnight, she will remain second in that race, albeit the grand slam leader in the Open Era – winner of the most titles since the majors embraced professionalism in 1968.

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