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.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Kovinic – 18/25 
Williams – 23/25

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Kovinic – 6/8 
Williams – 9/6

BREAK POINTS WON
Kovinic – 2/10
Williams – 5/11

Former US Open champion Dominic Thiem has been bundled out at Flushing Meadows in the first round by Pablo Carreno Busta 7-5 6-1 5-7 6-3 on Monday.

The Austrian, who was back to defend his 2020 title after missing last year due to a wrist injury, was no match for the 12th-seeded Spaniard, despite coming in with a 7-0 head-to-head record.

Four-time Grand Slam finalist Thiem has struggled for the past 14 months, with a mix of injury and form, only gaining entry at the US Open with a wild card.

Thiem is now ranked 211th in the world and has a 9-10 record this season, albeit with an improved past two months.

Former world number three Thiem had waited 426 days between ATP Tour level wins, when he triumphed at the Swedish Open in July this year.

Carreno Busta, who won in Montreal earlier this month, won in three hours and 18 minutes, rallying back from a 2-4 deficit early to peel off 10 of the next 11 games and claim a two-set lead.

Thiem responded in the third set by breaking in the second game, with Carreno Busta committing more unforced errors, but the Austrian could not maintain the pressure in the fourth.

The Austrian hit 44-31 winners but was not helped by unforced errors (54-32), while his first serve percentage was down at 59 per cent, winning only 58 per cent on his first serve.

Daniil Medvedev says he is not feeling the "extra pressure" of being the defending US Open champion after easing to a 6-2 6-4 6-0 victory over Stefan Kozlov in the first round.

The Russian won the first grand slam title of his career last year when he defeated Novak Djokovic at Flushing Meadows, and started his defence in dominant fashion on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday.

The world number one broke American outsider Kozlov eight times in a one-sided encounter in New York, in which he struck 37 winners and committed 19 unforced errors 

Top seed Medvedev does not feel burdened by being the man who won the final major of the year in 2021.

"[There is] a little bit [of] extra pressure [in being the defending champion]," he stated, "But mostly, I don't feel it, to be honest.

"Probably the only pressure is I know if I'm not going to play good here, for whatever reason... I will not care that I won it last year, I will just be disappointed that this year did not work out my way."

Medvedev will face Arthur Rinderknech next on Wednesday, after the Frenchman defeated his compatriot Quentin Halys in four sets on day one.

Simona Halep was the first big casualty at the US Open when she was sensationally beaten by qualifier Daria Snigur on day one.

Halep arrived at Flushing Meadows as one of the favourites to win the title after she was crowned Canadian Open champion this month.

The two-time grand slam champion fell at the first hurdle, though, as Ukrainian Snigur consigned her to a stunning 6-2 0-6 6-4 defeat on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Making her first appearance in the main draw at a major, the unheralded 20-year-old was rewarded for a positive approach, winning eight out of 12 points at the net and breaking five times.

Halep swept the world number 124 aside in the second set, but the outsider claimed the upper hand with break in the first game of the decider and went on to open up a 5-1 lead.

The former world number one showed her fighting spirit to hang in there, reducing the deficit to 5-4, but Snigur demonstrated nerves of steel to serve out the match and looked as shocked as anyone after sealing her place in the second round in New York.

Halep paid the price for 30 unforced errors, crashing out after a run to the semi-final in the last major at Wimbledon.

Andy Murray equalled Lleyton Hewitt by claiming his 47th main-draw win at the US Open as he came through a tricky first-round clash with Francisco Cerundolo.

Just under 10 years on from his maiden grand slam triumph at Flushing Meadows, where he famously beat Novak Djokovic in a near five-hour final, Murray overcame 24th seed Cerundolo in relatively short order.

The world number 51 produced one of the more impressive performances since his return from hip surgery to win 7-5 6-3 6-3 in two hours and 42 minutes on the Louis Armstrong Stadium court.

It is a success that moved him level with Australian great Hewitt, with whom he now shares ninth place on the all-time list for the most main-draw wins in New York.

Additionally, it marked Murray's first straight-sets win at a grand slam since his fourth-round victory over Benoit Paire at Wimbledon in 2017.

Cerundolo, meanwhile, is still awaiting his first main-draw win at a major.

He has enjoyed a breakthrough year, winning his first ATP title at the Swedish Open in July and reaching a career-high ranking of 24, but fell at the first hurdle for the third successive major having failed to qualify for the Australian Open at the start of the year.

Murray will play John Millman or Emilio Nava in the second round.

Emma Raducanu can deal with the high expectations around her but needs to find a coach and stick with them, according to former British number one John Lloyd.

Raducanu is set to defend her US Open title at Flushing Meadows as the final grand slam of the year gets underway on Monday.

The teenager's sensational success at the 2021 tournament as a qualifier came from nowhere, but she has been unable to replicate it since, having not won any further singles titles.

In fact, she has not even been beyond the quarter-finals of any slam or WTA Tour event since her extraordinary success.

Lloyd still struggles to comprehend her achievement.

Speaking to Stats Perform, Lloyd said: "When you win a slam the expectations are going to go through the roof, that's just the way it is.

"She achieved something, I'd liken it to Rocky, it was very similar. People have sent me film scripts like the one Wimbledon, the tennis film that came out, and I told the person, they sent me the script six months before, I said, 'This is stupid, stop coming up with these movies where you get some guy or woman comes up from the qualifiers and wins a grand slam, it doesn't happen, it's stupid, it's never going to happen.' And then she goes and does it.

"What she achieved was amazing, but she did it almost like getting an A in a test without doing the homework. She really didn't do the homework to get there.

"She hasn't done the miles yet, and her body hasn't, the toughness hasn't come. She went above it before she was ready in some ways, but she's already got it, that's in her pocket now. She is a slam winner and no-one can take that away from her.

"The expectations are unbelievably high, and they're going be and she has to face that fact, she can’t hide it, she's a slam winner so people are going to expect, but people in the game know that it was going be a tough year [for her]."

The 19-year-old split from her coach Torben Beltz in April after just six months, saying she needed "a new training model" and she has been working with Dmitry Tursunov on a trial basis in the last month.

Beltz became the third coach to move on from working with Raducanu in just 12 months after she swapped Nigel Sears for Andrew Richardson, who had been in her corner at last year's US Open.

Lloyd acknowledges there is not necessarily a right way to do things in tennis, though he is certainly not convinced by Raducanu's approach of choosing a new coach every few months.

"I'm not a big fan of the coaching situation," Lloyd added. "After what Richard Williams did [coaching Venus and Serena Williams] … to say that there's a norm, he threw that out the window.

"What they're doing now in coaching is almost like they're getting hold of coaches, soaking up like a sponge all the information they have and then they go onto the next. I don't think that works in tennis. I could be proved wrong, but I don't think that's right.

"You have to have coaches that you trust completely, because I think a lot of winning matches – I don't want to give too much credit to coaches because it's the person on the court that does the work – but I think a lot of matches are won by the night before the match, and even the morning of the match… you have a trust a coach and what they're saying to you.

"You're a unit, and I don't think chopping and changing having a different coach every three months is the right way to go about. I could be wrong but I think she has to have a settled coach."

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.

Serena Williams is bowing out, and she will end her remarkable career at the place she truly broke onto the world stage.

Williams' upcoming appearance at Flushing Meadows won't just be her last at the US Open, but her last in any tournament. She is retiring at the age of 40, with 23 grand slam singles titles to her name.

That is a record haul for any player, male or female, in the Open Era, but it is one short of Margaret Court's all-time tally.

Barring an unlikely charge for a first major win since the 2017 Australian Open, Court's record will remain intact for now.

The first slam singles title for Williams came way back in 1999, at the US Open. She has had ups and downs at the tournament through the years, but here Stats Perform looks at Williams' greatest Flushing Meadows achievements.

 

1999: Maiden grand slam success

Williams missed Wimbledon through injury but returned with a victory in Los Angeles at the JPMorgan Chase Open, setting the stage for an incredible maiden grand slam triumph. She defeated WTA greats Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martínez, Monica Seles and defending champion Lindsay Davenport to reach the final in New York. World number one Martina Hingis stood in her way, but the Swiss was no match – Williams won 6-3 7-6 (7-4) to truly make her mark at the age of 17.

2002: Sibling rivalry

Williams reached the final of the 2001 tournament, but it was her older sister Venus who triumphed. It was the first grand slam tournament to be contested by two sisters during the Open Era. The following year, the super siblings matched up in three of the four majors, and it was Serena who came up trumps in all three, capping that off with a 6-4 6-3 triumph at the US Open. The younger Williams sibling went on to win the Australian Open in 2003 too, sealing the 'Serena Slam' and making her the first player to hold the four major titles simultaneously since Steffi Graf in 1994.

2012: Azarenka challenge

Williams has enjoyed plenty of thrilling rivalries down the years, and, Venus aside, arguably the standout of them all has been the battle she has enjoyed with Victoria Azarenka. The pair have contested 23 matches in total, with Serena holding an 18-5 winning record. Their first meeting in a grand slam final came in 2012 at Flushing Meadows, in a season that had already seen Williams beat the Belarusian three times, including in the semi-finals of Wimbledon and in the last four of the London Olympics, also held at the All England Club, and she continued that run with a hard-fought 6-2 2-6 7-5 triumph in New York, battling back from 5-3 down and within two points of defeat in the deciding set to win a 15th major.

 

2014: Three in a row kick-starts Serena Slam II

Williams went on to defeat Azarenka again in the 2013 final, and she made it three US Open titles on the bounce with a straight-sets defeat of Caroline Wozniacki a year later. It saw Williams equal the Open Era record of 18 singles major titles, matching Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and she did not lose a set across the entire tournament. This triumph also paved the way for her second 'Serena Slam', as like in 2002-03, Williams went on to win all four majors in a row.

2020: History maker

No stranger to records, it is fitting that the last time Williams appeared at the US Open – before this year – she went on to etch her name into the Flushing Meadows history books yet again. A 7-5 6-3 first-round win over Kristie Ahn was hardly the most convincing of starts, but it saw Williams reach 102 match wins at the tournament, overtaking six-time champion Evert for the most career singles wins at the competition by a male or female player. She reached the semi-finals, becoming the first player in history to reach the last four of a major in four different decades (the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s), but lost to old foe Azarenka, who in turn went down to Naomi Osaka in the showpiece.

Serena and Venus Williams have accepted a wildcard entry to play the women's doubles at the US Open.

The two-time doubles winners at Flushing Meadows are likely to appear at the tournament for the final time in 2022, with Serena having already announced her intentions to soon retire from tennis.

Both sisters have entered the singles draw, with Serena facing Danka Kovinic in round one while Venus begins her campaign against Alison van Uytvanck.

The pair have not played a major doubles event together since the 2018 French Open, suffering defeat in the third round, and were last paired in New York in 2014, when they reached the quarter-finals.

However, the duo boast 14 major doubles titles and three Olympic gold medals together and are to be reunited again after the US Open announced the 14 wildcard pairs for the doubles events on Saturday.

Serena's involvement at the US Open begins on Monday, with Venus following on Tuesday, before the first round of the women's doubles is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

There seems to be no escaping the number 23 for Serena Williams as she prepares for an emotional final grand slam at the US Open.

It is 23 years since the legendary American won her first major singles title at Flushing Meadows, where she was also crowned doubles champion back in 1999.

Williams has gone on to win an astonishing 23 grand slam singles titles and 14 major doubles titles in an incredible career that is about to come to an end in New York.

One of the all-time greats turns 42 next month and although she is unlikely to bow out by claiming an elusive 24th major singles title in her home major, she is sure to be given a spine-tingling farewell.

Novak Djokovic's absence due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19 has been the big talking point in the men's singles, with Rafael Nadal getting an opportunity to extend his record tally of major successes.

Stats Perform picks out the standout numbers to preview the final major of the year as Emma Raducanu and Daniil Medvedev prepare to defend their titles.

Serena's incredible longevity

Such is the remarkable longevity of Williams' career, defending champion Raducanu and world number one Iga Swiatek were not even born when she won her first major.

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina was only a few months old when the iconic Saginaw native beat Martina Hingis in the 1999 US Open final for the first of so many major titles.

Only Chris Evert can boast as many US Open titles as Williams' tally of six in the Open Era, while she has played in a record 10 finals at Flushing Meadows.

The retiring veteran has 106 victories in her home major, a record in the Open Era, and only Martina Navratilova has recorded more wins in a single major - with 120 at Wimbledon.

Williams will be making her 21st main-draw appearance at the US Open, with only her older sister, Venus, bettering that figure in the Open Era as she prepares for her 23rd.

 

Long-awaited New York return for Nadal 

Nadal has not played at Flushing Meadows since he was crowned champion for a fourth time three years ago, having missed the 2020 tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic and not played last year due to a foot injury.

The Spanish great's hopes of completing a first calendar Grand Slam were ended by an abdominal injury that resulted in his withdrawal from Wimbledon ahead of a scheduled semi-final against Nick Kyrgios.

He could make it three major titles out of four this year in New York, though, where he will be bidding to take his haul of grand slam titles to 23 and move two clear of the absent Djokovic once again.

If Nadal lifts the trophy on Arthur Ashe Stadium, it would give him a record-equalling fifth US Open men's singles title - matching the haul of Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Only Bjorn Borg (89.2 per cent) has a higher winning ratio in grand slam tournaments during the Open Era than Nadal's 88.3 per cent among players with at least 100 victories to their name, 

 

Another record in women's singles?

Teenage Brit Raducanu made history when she became the first qualifier to win a major title last year, beating Leylah Fernandez in the final.

Swiatek has dominated the women's game for much of this year, the highlight being her second French Open triumph.

With the retired Ash Barty, Swiatek and Rybakina taking the singles titles in 2022, there could be four different gram slam champions for a fifth consecutive season - excluding 2020 - and that would be the longest such streak in the Open Era.

Alcaraz to make major breakthrough?

While Nadal will be the Spaniard with the largest burden of expectation on his shoulders, Carlos Alcaraz should be a big threat in New York.

The 19-year-old could become the fifth player in the Open Era to reach at least the quarter-finals in his first two appearances at Flushing Meadows after Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, John Newcombe and Johan Kriek.

Alcaraz has the joint-most ATP Tour titles this year with four, matching Nadal's tally.

At the age of 16, Serena Williams had a fairly confident grip on how the world saw her, and her older sister Venus.

"A lot of people think that black people can't rally, just think they're athletes and they can't think," Williams said at the 1998 Lipton Championships. "As you can see, that's not true. I can rally, Venus can rally."

And my word, how they could rally. As teenagers, then into their roaring twenties, onward into their thrilling thirties and even after turning 40.

Serena turns 41 next month and will retire after the US Open. She has been a title winner on tour in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s, a beacon to black youngsters with a dream everywhere.

It was a March day in Key Biscayne, Florida, when the teenage Serena floated her belief that racism was already circling the siblings.

She had just lost a deciding-set tie-break to WTA number one Martina Hingis in the quarter-finals of the Florida tournament, missing out on two match points. It was one of those occasions where Williams conceded she "could have rallied a little better".

The 40th-ranked youngster said she would "go home and work on that", and brushed off the missed match points by pointing out Pete Sampras had lost to Wayne Ferreira from the same position.

"Maybe I'm just like Pete. Maybe one day I'll be number one, too," Williams said, presciently.

Eighteen months later, she was the US Open champion, beating Hingis in the title match at Flushing Meadows. Bill Clinton, President of the United States, called after the match ended to offer his congratulations.

In that instant, the 17-year-old Serena said it felt "really amazing", but a day later her mood had darkened. Tennis life and fame was already proving wearing. Dad Richard had groomed the sisters for this life, but Serena, who had to give up her skateboarding hobby because of a wrist injury, realised she had left normal life behind.

"I mean, it's actually impossible for me to go out now," she said. "I can't go anywhere. From the beginning of the tournament, I just can't walk down the street.

"It's the same [at home]. You're driving, people honk their horns. It's actually kind of annoying."

Serena and Venus put up with garbage for many years. Whether it was horns honking, or critics honking, they were frequently served a raw deal.

At Wimbledon in 2000, it was tossed to Serena that "critics" were suggesting she and her sister might not be "as strategically aware as some of the other players", but that they were "incredible athletes with great bodies".

"We definitely have great bodies, yeah. Nice, slim, sexy shapes. They're right," Serena replied, unimpressed.

Later that year, after her US Open defence ended with a quarter-final loss to Lindsay Davenport, Williams discussed opposition to the prospect of sisterly dominance.

"I'm sure a lot of people never want to see an all-Williams final," said Serena. "It's going to happen in the future inevitably. Nobody's going to be able to stop it. Obviously, no one would want to see an all-Williams final because everyone doesn't really like us. That's just the way it is."

Those are depressing words to revisit, and they came as Davenport claimed Hingis had been urging her to beat Serena. Venus went on to beat Davenport in the final.

Yet, as Serena forecast, nobody could stop the sisters' march. Serena and Venus first matched up in a slam final in New York at the 2001 US Open, and Venus got the better of Serena.

They clashed again in five of six slam singles finals from the 2002 French Open through to Wimbledon in 2003, and Serena won every time. Across the next five years, she won a modest – by her astonishing standards – three further slams, but Williams was back at the height of her powers when she won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2009 and 2010.

A near-disastrous accident said to have happened in a Munich restaurant, with Williams standing on some glass, followed just days after Wimbledon, and she did not play another slam until returning to London the following year.

It was there that Williams was handed a Court Two assignment for her second-round clash with a fledgling Simona Halep. I remember being on court that day, puzzled why this sporting colossus was sent out to a court that is seriously modest when matched up to Centre Court and Court One.

"They like to put us on Court Two, me and Venus, for whatever reason," Williams said afterwards. "I haven't figured it out yet. Maybe one day we'll figure it out."

It was put to Serena that the sisters might take it as an insult, given Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal tended not to be sent out to Court Two, an awkward spot in the grounds for superstars to reach without causing a fuss.

"Yeah, they're never moved across," said Serena. "I don't make it a big issue. I think at some point maybe I should."

She streaked together three US Open titles from 2012 to 2014, and further Wimbledon triumphs in 2012, 2015 and 2016. It seemed a matter of time before Williams went past Margaret Court's record 24 singles slams, removing any question mark over who is the greatest women's player of all time.

Slam number 23 arrived in Australia while Williams was in the early stage of pregnancy in 2017, and the birth of daughter Olympia was followed by another harrowing health scare.

Williams still reached four more slam finals, going all the way to the title matches at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018 and 2019, but she could not land the elusive 24th. In fact, she did not win a set in any of those finals.

Defeat to Bianca Andreescu in the 2019 Flushing Meadows title match was hard to take, Williams acknowledged afterwards.

"I honestly don't think Serena showed up," said Williams. "I have to kind of figure out how to get her to show up in grand slam finals."

That was to be her last slam final, barring something most unexpected happening over the coming fortnight.

Serena saw room for improvement, but she 'showed up' more than often enough on the big stage.

She fought racists, sexists, ignoramuses and charlatans to get a foothold on tour, then made a mockery of the "black people can't rally" jibe.

Her 23 singles slams ranks as a record for the sport's Open Era. She has 365 grand slam match wins in singles, 59 more than second-placed Martina Navratilova.

It's one for every day of the year so far, but this great American will want more before that final farewell.

She announced her retirement in Vogue, a power move, just like having the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z and Meghan Markle in her corner always was.

The pursuit of Court is up; just about, anyway. It probably helps that the likes of Billie Jean King and John McEnroe hold up Williams as the greatest of all time.

After her magazine piece, Williams spoke in Toronto about seeing "a light at the end of the tunnel".

"I can't wait to get to that light," Williams said, being serious but laughing hard.

What does it represent?

"Freedom," said Williams.

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