Novak Djokovic is set to be granted a visa to play in next year’s Australian Open despite his high-profile deportation in January. The Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday said it had confirmed newspaper reports that the immigration minister had overturned a potential three-year exclusion period for Djokovic. The Australian Border Force has previously said an exclusion period could be waived in certain circumstances — and that each case would be assessed on its merits. Read more: Paris Masters: Djokovic denied by unseeded Danish teenager Rune Immigration Minister Andrew Giles' office declined comment on privacy grounds, meaning any announcement on Djokovic’s visa status would have to come from the 35-year-old Serbian tennis star. The 21-time Grand Slam singles champion wasn’t allowed to defend his Australian Open title this year after a tumultuous 10-day legal saga over his COVID-19 vaccination status that culminated with his visa being revoked on the eve of the tournament. Djokovic arrived at Melbourne Airport as the world’s top-ranked tennis player with a visa he’d obtained online and what he believed to be a valid medical exemption to the country’s strict laws for unvaccinated travelers because it was endorsed by Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria state, which hosts the tournament. Confusion reigned, generating global headlines. As it transpired, that medical exemption allowed him entry to the tournament, which required all players, fans and officials to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, but not necessarily to enter the country. It was rejected by the Australian Border Force. Read more: Djokovic 2 sets down, rallies for 26th straight at Wimbledon Alex Hawke, Australia’s immigration minister at the time, used discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa on character grounds, stating he was a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment.” Australia has had a change of government and changed its border rules this year and, since July 6, incoming travelers no longer have to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. That removed the major barrier to entry for Djokovic. It allowed him to apply to new Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to reconsider his visa status. In his favor, Djokovic left Australia quickly after his visa was revoked and has not publicly criticized Australian authorities. As the Department of Home Affairs website explains, applicants in Djokovic’s circumstances must explain in writing to Australia's border authorities why the exclusion period should be put aside — “you must show us that there are compassionate or compelling circumstances to put aside your re-entry ban and grant you the visa.” Djokovic indicated Monday at the ATP Finals in Italy that his lawyers were communicating with the Australian government with a view to him contesting the Jan. 16-29 Australian Open.
Roger Federer is retiring from professional tennis at age 41 after a series of knee operations, closing a career in which he won 20 Grand Slam titles, finished five seasons ranked No. 1 and helped create a golden era of men’s tennis with rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Federer posted what he called a “bittersweet decision” via social media on Thursday, less than a week after 23-time major champion Serena Williams played what is expected to the last match of her career. Combined, the exits by two of the greatest athletes in their sport’s history represent a significant turning of the page. “As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries. I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form,” Federer wrote on Twitter. “But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.” Federer has not competed since Wimbledon in July 2021, and so, in that sense, his news is not all that surprising. But he had appeared at an event marking the 100-year anniversary of Centre Court at the All England Club this July and said he hoped to come back to play there “one more time.” He also had said he would return to tournament action in his home country at the Swiss Indoors in October. In Thursday’s announcement, Federer said his farewell event will be the Laver Cup in London next week. That is a team event run by his management company. Federer is married and he and his wife, Mirka — a tennis player, too; they met as athletes at an Olympics — have two sets of twins. Read: Federer stunned by 55th-ranked Millman in US Open 4th Round He leaves with a total of 103 tour-level titles on his substantial resume and 1,251 wins in singles matches, both second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open era, which began in 1968. Federer’s records include being the oldest No. 1 in ATP rankings history — he returned to the top spot at 36 in 2018 — and most consecutive weeks there (his total weeks mark was eclipsed by Djokovic). When Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, the men’s record for most was held by Pete Sampras, who had won his 14th at the U.S. Open the year before in what turned out to be the last match of the American’s career. Federer would go on to blow way past that, ending up with 20 by winning eight championships at Wimbledon, six at the Australian Open, five at the U.S. Open and one at the French Open. His 2009 trophy at Roland Garros allowed Federer to complete a career Grand Slam. His serving, forehand, footwork and attacking style will all be remembered. Also unforgettable were his matches against younger rivals Nadal, 36, and Djokovic, 35, who both equalled, then surpassed, Federer’s Slam total and are still winning titles at the sport’s four biggest tournaments. Nadal now leads the count with 22, one ahead of Djokovic. “I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget,” Federer said in Thursday’s announcement. Also read: Federer marks 100th match on Rod Laver Arena with 3-set win Addressing his “competitors on the court” — although not by name — he wrote: “We pushed each other, and together we took tennis to new levels.” Federer’s last match anywhere came on July 7, 2021, when he lost at Centre Court in the Wimbledon quarterfinals to Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0. Soon after, Federer had surgery to repair damage to his meniscus and cartilage in his right knee — his third operation on that knee in a span of 1 1/2 years. “Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt,” Federer said Thursday, “and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”
One of the most prolific sports personalities in the 21st century, Serena Williams hinted at her decision to move on from professional tennis in a first-person essay for Vogue earlier in August. Serena dislikes the term "retirement," preferring to refer to it as an "evolution," as she explains in her essay. Serena Williams is believed to have made her last professional tennis appearance against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic on September 2, 2022, in the third round of the US Open and brought the curtain to her 27-year long illustrious career. Serena Williams' legacy as a tennis player is discussed in this article. Serena Williams' early life and family Born on September 26, 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan, Serena Williams is the youngest of two daughters of Oracene Price and Richard Williams. Serena’s oldest sister, Venus, was a renowned tennis player. The Williams family moved to California when their children were young. Serena began playing tennis when she was four years old. Serena and her family moved to Florida when she was nine so that she could attend the tennis academy run by Rick Macci. However, in 1995, Richard pulled his daughters out of Rick Macci's academy, and in the same year, Serena became a pro tennis player. Richard Williams has been his daughter's official coach all through their career. Her mother, Oracene Price, also guided her two daughters in the initial years of their careers. Aside from them, French tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou worked briefly with Serena from 2012 to 2022. Serena Williams married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian on November 16, 2017 in New Orleans. Two months earlier, in September, Serena gave birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, who is commonly known as "Olympia". Serena’s Tennis Career at a Glance Serena Williams is considered one of the most decorated players in both men's and women's tennis in the open era. Her 23 grand slam titles, most in the open era and the second-most of all-time, speak for themselves. Serena had to wait four years to win her first Grand Slam women’s singles event after making her professional tennis debut at the Bell Challenge in Quebec in October, 1995. Her first singles Grand Slam victory came at the US Open in 1999. In the following year, 2000, she won her first Olympic gold medal in the singles event. The next decade, the tennis world saw a complete domination by the William sisters, especially the younger one—Serena. Perhaps her greatest rivalry was against her sister, Venus Williams, with whom she also shared tremendous success in doubles events. At one point, the Serena-Venus pair was untouchable. Together they won 22 women’s doubles titles, which included 14 Grand Slam Women’s Doubles and three Summer Olympics Doubles titles. They were dominant, especially at Wimbledon, where they won six doubles matches. Their Olympic Doubles came in Sydney in 2000, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. Serena, on the other hand, always maintained dominance over Venus.
Much like for so many other folks, Serena Williams' last match at the U.S. Open was must-see TV for players still in the tournament, so Jessica Pegula and Petra Kvitova tuned in from their hotel rooms the night before their victories led off Saturday's schedule and set up a fourth-round showdown. “Of course I watched Serena. I'm like everyone else,” said Pegula, a 28-year-old American who is seeded No. 8 at Flushing Meadows and beat qualifier Yuan Yue 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-0. “You feel kind of sad that’s how it ends. But, I don’t know, like I got a little, like, sentimental, too, watching her, how emotional she was getting.” Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion from the Czech Republic, credited Williams' last stand — the owner of 23 Grand Slam titles fended off five match points before bowing out in three sets against Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday night in what is expected to be her final contest — with offering inspiration. “It was very special. She didn’t want to leave the court, for sure. That was the same case with me today, actually. I didn’t want to go out of this tournament, so I was just there hanging (in), somehow,” said Kvitova, who erased deficit after deficit, including a pair of match points, to edge Garbiñe Muguruza 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (12-10). Read:Let Serena define her legacy as she leaves tennis “That's what Serena showed last night,” said Kvitova, who dropped her racket and covered her face with her ends when what she called a “nightmare” of a tiebreaker was over. “It was nice to see her yesterday, fighting until the end.” Yes, Williams is gone, leaving the year's last major tournament — and, in some ways, the sport as a whole — without its biggest star and storyline. Still, the show must go on. So there was Kvitova, undaunted as ever, despite dropping the first set, despite trailing 5-2 in the third, despite being a point from defeat twice at 6-5. Here’s how close this one was: Kvitova won 109 total points, Muguruza 108. “Left everything on the court today,” said No. 9 Muguruza, a two-time Slam winner whose departure means the bracket was without six of the top 10 women before the third round was even done. No. 1 Iga Swiatek moved into the fourth round by beating Lauren Davis 6-3, 6-4; No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka was playing later Saturday. During the night session in Ashe, 22-time major champ Rafael Nadal improved his career mark against Richard Gasquet to 18-0 with a 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 victory. Nadal won the opening nine games and was on his way to improving to 22-0 in Grand Slam matches in 2022. Nadal did not have stitches or a bandage on his nose, two days after accidentally cutting it with his racket during his previous victory. “A little bit bgger than usual, but it's OK,” he said with a smile. “The nose is still there.” Nadal's win was followed in Ashe by Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins against Caroline Garcia. On Monday, Nadal will take on No. 22 Frances Tiafoe, the first American man since Mardy Fish in 2010-12 to get to the U.S. Open's fourth round in three consecutive years. Tiafoe eliminated No. 14 Diego Schwartzman 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-4. Read: Serena Williams loses to Tomljanovic in US Open farewell It was going to be tough for any of the day's matches to live up to the sort of attention Williams drew, or the atmosphere she helped create, during her three-match run in Ashe. “I just can’t believe the ‘era of Serena’ on the tennis court is over,” Pegula said. “I mean, it’s just hard to picture tennis without her.” In other action Saturday, two-time Australian Open champion Viktoria Azarenka was a 6-3, 6-0 winner against Petra Martic; two-time major runner-up Karolina Pliskova beat Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic 5-7, 6-4, 6-3; No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old Spaniard, defeated unseeded Jenson Brooksby, a 21-year-old Californian, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3; No. 7 Cam Norrie beat No. 28 Holger Rune 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 in the men's draw; No. 9 Andrey Rublev got past No. 19 Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (10-7); and 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic beat No. 20 Dan Evans 7-6 (11), 6-7 (3); 6-2, 7-5. Upcoming matchups include Azarenka vs. Bencic; Alcaraz vs. Cilic, and Norrie vs. Rublev. As for Kvitova-Muguruza, Rublev-Shapovalov required the new final-set tiebreaker format to determine the winner. The four Grand Slam tournaments agreed to adopt a uniform system this year, with the third sets of women’s matches and fifth sets of men’s decided by a first-to-10, win-by-two formula; the U.S. Open used to have the more traditional first-to-seven setup. Pegula's domination of her last set made that sort of thing entirely unnecessary. She had wasted a chance to close out the victory a half-hour earlier when she wasn't able to convert her match point, but quickly regrouped. Pegula started her Grand Slam career by going 3-8. She’s gone 22-7 since, including runs to quarterfinals at the Australian Open each of the past two years and the French Open this year. The 28-year-old American, whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, came into Saturday with an 0-2 record in third-round matches at Flushing Meadows, including a loss to Kvitova in 2020. Pegula gets another shot at her Monday. “Petra is so hard to play. I feel like when she’s on, she blows you off the court. And then sometimes she can be off. .. She's a fighter. When it clicks, it’s really difficult,” Pegula said, then was sure to add: “I think I’m a much better player now than I was when I played her last time.”
After all of the many tributes to Serena Williams were done, the celebratory words and the video montages, the standing ovations and the shouts of her name, it seemed appropriate that she herself would provide the defining look at her legacy. So the last question at the news conference after her last match of the U.S. Open — and, it seems clear, of her career — offered Williams the chance to say how she’d most like to be remembered. “I feel like I really brought something, and bring something, to tennis. The different looks. The fist pumps. The just crazy intensity. ... ‘Passion,’ I think, is a really good word. Just continuing through ups and downs,” she responded Friday night. “I could go on and on. But I just honestly am so grateful that I had this moment — and that I’m Serena.” That captures so much about her so well. And to think: Williams, who turns 41 this month, did not even mention anything about being an elite athlete or any of the statistics that help define what she did with a racket in her hand. The 23 championships at the Grand Slam tournaments that have come to define success in her sport. Another 50 singles titles elsewhere. The 14 majors in doubles with her sister, Venus. The 319 weeks at No. 1. The four Olympic gold medals. So, sure, it’s impossible to assess Williams without considering her place in the pantheon of superstars, as worthy as anyone — woman or man, this generation or any other, this sport or any other — of the honorific “Greatest of All Time” (one clever spectator at Williams’ 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic held up a poster with, simply, a drawing of a goat). “She is an all-time great. Obviously, that’s an understatement,” said Martina Navratilova, an 18-time major winner who certainly is part of that whole conversation. But Williams is also about a lot more than that. No Black woman had won a Slam title since Althea Gibson in the 1950s until Williams came along and collected her first at the 1999 U.S. Open at age 17. Over the more than two decades since, Williams and Venus, who earned seven major singles trophies of her own, get credit for inspiring Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka and countless of others to play tennis, yes, but also for pushing plenty of others to change their views about what can be done and what can’t. Read: Serena Williams loses to Tomljanovic in US Open farewell “She embodies that no dream is too big,” Tomljanovic said. “You can do anything if you believe in yourself, you love what you do and you have an incredible support system around you.” There’s more. She won a Grand Slam title while pregnant, went through scary health complications after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, in 2017, and would return to the tour and reach four more major finals. She has a venture capital firm that raised more than $100 million. “Everyone looks at her and tries to be like Serena,” said Caroline Garcia, a Frenchwoman seeded 17th and into the fourth round at the U.S. Open. “And I’m sure that’s going to be for years to come.” Williams wore what she wanted on a tennis court. She reacted how she wanted, during and away from her matches. She said what she wanted, sometimes addressing social issues, sometimes not, but there always was a sense that she was the one who decided. There were those who criticized her, of course. Those who wondered whether she was doing things the right way. Just as there were those who thought it was a mistake for her father, Richard, to keep his young daughters away from the junior tennis circuit. Um, seems as if that worked out, huh? “I will definitely (be) missing her on the courts,” Tomljanovic said, surely echoing the thoughts of many. “It will not be the same.” No, tennis most definitely will not be the same without Williams. Not even close. That’s OK, though. It’s time, as Williams famously wrote, for her to be “evolving” away from her days as a player. It’s time for her to devote extra energy to being a mom and a businesswomen and whatever else life brings her way. As Williams observed after hitting one last shot: “I have such a bright future ahead of me.”
Leave it to Serena Williams to not want to go quietly, to not want this match, this trip to the U.S. Open, this transcendent career of hers, to really, truly end. Right down to what were, barring a change of heart, the final minutes of her quarter-century of excellence on the tennis court, and an unbending unwillingness to be told what wasn’t possible, Williams tried to mount one last classic comeback, earn one last vintage victory, with fans on their feet in a full Arthur Ashe Stadium, cellphone cameras at the ready. The 23-time Grand Slam champion staved off five match points to prolong the three-hours-plus proceedings, but could not do more, and was eliminated from the U.S. Open in the third round by Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1 on Friday night in what is expected to be her final contest. “I’ve been down before. ... I don’t really give up,” Williams said. “In my career, I’ve never given up. In matches, I don’t give up. Definitely wasn’t giving up tonight.” She turns 41 this month and recently told the world that she is ready to start “evolving” away from her playing days — she expressed distaste for the word “retirement” — and while she remained purposely vague about whether this appearance at Flushing Meadows definitely would represent her last hurrah, everyone assumed it will be. “It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve ever been on in my life,” Williams said, tears streaming down her cheeks shortly after one final shot landed in the net. “I’m so grateful to every single person that’s ever said, ‘Go, Serena!’ in their life.” Asked during an on-court interview whether she might reconsider walking away, Williams replied: “I don’t think so, but you never know.” A little later, pressed on the same topic at her post-match news conference, Williams joked, “I always did love Australia,” the country that hosts the next Grand Slam tournament in January. With two victories in singles this week, including over the No. 2 player in the world, Anett Kontaveit, on Wednesday, Williams took her fans on a thrill-a-minute throwback trip at the hard-court tournament that was the site of a half-dozen of her championships. The first came in 1999 in New York, when Williams was a teen. Now she’s married and a mother; her daughter, Olympia, turned 5 on Thursday. “Clearly, I’m still capable. ... (But) I’m ready to be a mom, explore a different version of Serena,” she said. “Technically, in the world, I’m still super young, so I want to have a little bit of a life while I’m still walking.” With 23,859 of her closest friends cheering raucously again Friday, Williams faltered against Tomljanovic, a 29-year-old Australian who is ranked 46th. Williams gave away leads in each set, including the last, in which she was up 1-0 before dropping the final six games. Tomljanovic is unabashedly a fan of Williams, having growing up watching her play on TV. “I’m feeling really sorry, just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do. And what she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis, is incredible,” said Tomljanovic, who has never been past the quarterfinals at any major. “This is a surreal moment for me.” Then, drawing laughs, Tomljanovic added: “I just thought she would beat me. ... She’s Serena. That’s that’s just who she is: She’s the greatest of all time. Period.” Asked what she planned to do on the first day of the rest of her life Saturday, Williams said she’d rest, spend time with Olympia and then added: “I’m definitely probably going to be karaoke-ing.” Her performance with her racket Friday showed grit and featured some terrific serving, but it was not perfect. Read: Serena Williams not done yet; wins 1st match at US Open On one point in the second set, Williams’ feet got tangled and she fell to the court, dropping her racket. She finished with 51 unforced errors, 21 more than Tomljanovic. Williams let a 5-3 lead vanish in the first set. She did something similar in the second, giving away edges of 4-0 and 5-2, and requiring five set points to finally put that one in her pocket. From 4-all in the tiebreaker, meaning Williams was three points from defeat, she pounded a 117 mph ace, hit a forehand winner to cap a 20-stroke exchange, then watched Tomljanovic push a forehand long. Momentum appeared to be on Williams’ side. But she could not pull off the sort of never-admit-defeat triumph she did so often over the years. “Oh, my God, thank you so much. You guys were amazing today. I tried,” Williams told the audience, hands on her hips, before mentioning, among others, her parents and her older sister, Venus, a seven-time major champion who is 42. “I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus. So thank you, Venus,” Williams said. “She’s the only reason that Serena Williams ever existed.” They started in tennis as kids in Compton, California, coached by their father, Richard, who taught himself about the sport after watching on television while a player received a winner’s check. He was the central figure in the Oscar-winning film “King Richard,” produced by his daughters. The siblings lost together in the first round of doubles on Thursday night, drawing another sellout. And on Friday, as during the younger Williams’ other outings this week, there could be no doubt about which player the paying public favored. When Tomljanovic broke to go up 6-5 as part of a four-game run to take the opening set, one person in her guest box rose to applaud — and he was pretty much on his own. Otherwise, folks applauded when Tomljanovic double-faulted, generally considered a faux pas for tennis crowds. They got loud in the middle of lengthy exchanges, also frowned upon. They offered sympathetic sounds of “Awwwwww” when Williams flubbed a shot, and leapt out of their seats when she did something they found extraordinary. A rather routine service break was cause for a standing ovation. Tomljanovic draped a blue-and-white U.S. Open towel over her head at changeovers, shielding herself from the noise and distractions. “Just really blocked it out as much as I could. It did get to me a few times, internally. I mean, I didn’t take it personally because, I mean, I would be cheering for Serena, too, if I wasn’t playing her,” Tomljanovic said. “But it was definitely not easy.” After Williams struck a swinging backhand volley winner to take a 4-0 lead in the second set, her play improving with every passing moment, the reaction was earsplitting. Billie Jean King, a Hall of Famer with 39 total Grand Slam titles across singles, doubles and mixed doubles, raised her cellphone to capture the scene. “You’re everywhere!” yelled Williams’ husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, from a courtside guest box that also contained power couple Ciara and Russell Wilson. When Williams drove two consecutive forehand winners to lead 5-2 in the second set, she screamed and leaned forward after each. She could not sustain that level. Williams entered the night having won 19 times in a row in the U.S. Open’s third round of singles competition, including reaching at least the semifinals in her most recent 11 appearances in New York. Talk about a full-circle moment: The only other third-round loss she’s ever had at Flushing Meadows (she is 42-0 in the first and second rounds) came in 1998, the year Williams made her tournament debut at age 16. She would win her first major trophy 12 months later at the U.S. Open. And now she said goodbye in that same stadium. “It’s been a long time. I’ve been playing tennis my whole life,” Williams said Friday night, after performing one last twirl-and-wave move usually reserved for victories. “It is a little soon, but I’m also happy because, I mean, this is what I wanted, what I want.”
Serena Williams can call it “evolving” or “retiring” or whatever she wants. And she can be coy about whether or not this U.S. Open will actually mark the end of her playing days. Those 23 Grand Slam titles earned that right. If she keeps playing like this, who knows how long this farewell will last? No matter what happens once her trip to Flushing Meadows is over, here is what is important to know after Wednesday night: The 40-year-old Williams is still around, she’s still capable of terrific tennis, she's still winning — and, like the adoring spectators whose roars filled Arthur Ashe Stadium again — she's ready for more. Williams eliminated No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 in the U.S. Open’s second round to ensure that she will play at least one more singles match at what she’s hinted will be the last tournament of her illustrious career. “There’s still a little left in me,” Williams said with a smile during her on-court interview, then acknowledged during her post-match news conference: ”These moments are clearly fleeting." After beating 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic in straight sets Monday, then collecting her 23rd victory in her past 25 matches against someone ranked Nos. 1 or 2 against Kontaveit on Wednesday, the six-time champion at Flushing Meadows will play Friday for a spot in the fourth round. Her opponent will be Ajla Tomljanovic, a 29-year-old Australian who is ranked 46th. They've never met, but Tomljanovic, who said she considers herself a Williams fan, figures she knows what to anticipate from the American — and from those in the seats. “I was playing on Court 7 both of my matches so far at the same time as her, and I could hear the crowd. I’m like, ‘Court 7 isn’t that close.’ I kept thinking, ‘Oh, my God, that’s annoying me and I’m not even playing against her.’ I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” Tomljanovic said. “What I’m going to focus on is to keep the scoreline close, because I think she gets dangerous if she gets up. She’s the best when she gets ahead.” On Wednesday, Williams hit serves at up to 119 mph, stayed with Kontaveit during lengthy exchanges of big swings from the baselines and conjured up some of her trademark brilliance when it was needed most. After pulling out a tight first set, then faltering in the second, Williams headed to the locker room for a bathroom break before the third. Something had to give, someone had to blink. When they resumed, it was Williams who lifted her level and emerged as the better player. Just as she’s done so many times, on so many stages, with so much at stake. “I'm just Serena. After I lost the second set, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I better give my best effort because this could be it,’” Williams said, surely echoing the thoughts of everyone paying any attention. “I never get to play like this — since ’98, really," she said. "Literally, I’ve had an ‘X’ on my back since ’99,” the year she claimed her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open at age 17. Whatever rust accumulated when Williams missed about a year of action before returning to the tour in late June appears to have vanished. She was 1-3 in 2022 entering the U.S. Open. “Now it’s kind of coming together,” Williams said. “I mean, it had to come together today.” Williams has doubles to play, too. She and her sister, Venus, have won 14 major championships as a team and will begin that event Thursday night. Kontaveit, a 26-year-old from Estonia, is a powerful hitter in her own right, the sort that spread across women’s tennis over the past two decades after a pair of siblings from Compton, California, changed the game. But there's a caveat attached to Kontaveit's ranking: She has never won so much as one quarterfinal match at any Grand Slam tournament in 30 career appearances. Read:Serena Williams not done yet; wins 1st match at US Open So maybe that's why, much like with Kovinic 48 hours earlier, Williams’ opponent was introduced just by her name, and Kontaveit walked out to a smattering of applause. Williams, in contrast, got the full treatment: highlight video, a listing of her many accolades and a loud greeting from folks part of the largest U.S. Open attendance ever at a night session, 29,959, eclipsing the record set Monday. “It was her moment,” Kontaveit said. “Of course, this is totally about her." As strident a competitor as tennis, or any sport, has seen, as rightly self-confident in her abilities as any athlete, Williams was not about to think of this whole exercise as merely a celebration of her career. She came to New York wanting to win, of course. Wearing the same glittery crystal-encrusted top and diamond-accented sneakers — replete with solid gold shoelace tags and the word “Queen” on the right one, “Mama” on the left — that she sported Monday, Williams was ready for prime time. The match began with Kontaveit grabbing the first five points, Williams the next five. And on they went, back and forth. Kontaveit’s mistakes were cheered — even faults, drawing an admonishment for the crowd from chair umpire Alison Hughes about making noise between serves. Early in the third set, Kontaveit hit a cross-court forehand that caught the outermost edge of a sideline. A video on the stadium screens showed just how close it was, confirming that the ball did, indeed, land in. That brought out boos from the stands. Williams raised her arm and wagged a finger, telling her backers not to cause a fuss. If anything, Kontaveit received more acknowledgment from the player trying to defeat her than anyone else, as Williams would respond to great shots with a nod or a racket clap. “They were not rooting against me. They just wanted Serena to win so bad,” Kontaveit said, calling the treatment she received “fair," even if it was “something I never experienced before.” Williams broke for a 5-4 edge when Kontaveit pushed a backhand long, spurring yelling spectators to rise to their feet — and Williams’ husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, jumped right in, too, waving his arms in her direction, a few rows in front of where Venus and Tiger Woods were two seats apart. But with a chance to serve out that set, Williams briefly lost her way. A double-fault made it 5-all. Eventually they went to a tiebreaker, and at 3-3, a chant of “Let’s go, Serena!” broke out, accompanied by rhythmic clapping. Soon, Williams delivered a 101 mph service winner and a 91 mph ace to seal that set. To Kontaveit’s credit, she did not fold, did not let the disappointment linger. Instead, she raced to a 3-0 edge in the second with 10 winners and zero unforced errors. In the third, it was Williams who gained the upper hand, and it seemed every point she won elicited an enthusiastic response. After a swinging forehand volley winner put Williams a game from victory, she raised both arms, then clenched her left fist. One game, and five minutes later, it was over — and her stay at the U.S. Open could proceed. Asked whether she's a title contender, Williams answered: “I can not think that far. I'm having fun and I'm enjoying it.”
They came from far and wide for Serena — no last name required, befitting someone as much an icon as superstar athlete — to see her practice and play and, it turned out, win a match at the U.S. Open on Monday night, turning out in record numbers to fill Arthur Ashe Stadium and shout and applaud and pump their fists right along with her. Serena Williams is not ready to say goodbye just yet. Nor, clearly, are her fans. And she heard them, loud and clear. In her first match at what is expected to be the last U.S. Open — and last tournament — of her remarkable playing career, even if she insists that she won’t quite say so, Williams overcame a shaky start to overpower Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-3 amid an atmosphere more akin to a festival than a farewell. What memory will stick with her the most from the evening? Also read: Serena's Choice: Williams' tough call resonates with women “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,” said the owner of six U.S. Open championships and 23 Grand Slam titles overall, numbers unsurpassed by any other player in the sport’s professional era. “It’s a feeling I’ll never forget,” she added. “Yeah, that meant a lot to me.” This opening outing against Kovinic, a 27-year-old from Montenegro ranked 80th, became an event with a capital “E.” Spike Lee participated in the pre-match coin toss. Former President Bill Clinton was in the stands. So were Mike Tyson and Martina Navratilova, sitting next to each other. And sitting with Dad and Grandma was Williams’ daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Thursday, wearing white beads in her hair just like Mom did while winning the U.S. Open for the first time at age 17 back in 1999. Williams is now 40, and told the world three weeks ago via an essay for Vogue that she was ready to concentrate on having a second child and her venture capital firm. Asked after her victory Monday whether this will definitively be her final tournament, Williams replied with a knowing smile: “Yeah, I’ve been pretty vague about it, right?” Then she added: “I’m going to stay vague, because you never know.” The night session drew 29,000 folks, a high for the tournament — more than 23,000 were in Ashe; thousands more watched on a video screen outside the arena — and the place was as loud as ever. Certainly louder than any other first-round match in memory. Both players called the decibel level “crazy.” Kovinic said she couldn’t hear the ball come off Williams’ racket strings — or even her own. Early, Williams was not at her best. Maybe it was the significance of the moment. There were double-faults. Other missed strokes, missed opportunities. She went up 2-0, but then quickly trailed 3-2. Then, suddenly, Williams, looked a lot like the champion she’s been for decades and less like the player who came into this match with a 1-3 record since returning to action in late June after nearly a year off the tour. “At this point, honestly, everything is a bonus for me, I feel,” Williams said. “It’s good that I was able to get this under my belt. ... I’m just not even thinking about that. I’m just thinking about just this moment. I think it’s good for me just to live in the moment now.” She rolled through the end of that opening set, capping it with a service winner she reacted to with clenched fists and her trademark cry of “Come on!” That was met with thunderous cheers and applause — as was the ending of the 1-hour, 40-minute contest, as if another trophy had been earned. Instead, there is plenty more work to be done. Williams will play in the second round of singles on Wednesday against No. 2 seed Anett Kontveit of Estonia. And there’s also doubles, too: Williams and her sister, Venus, are entered together in that competition, with their initial match slated for Wednesday or Thursday. “Just keep supporting me,” Williams told the spectators, “as long as I’m here.” They surely will. They were there to honor her and show appreciation for what she’s done on the court and off. After watching the victory over Kovinic, spectators held up blue, white or red placards that were distributed at their seats to spell out “We (Heart) Serena.” After Kovinic was introduced simply by name, making clear to even her what an afterthought she was on this muggy evening, Williams’ entrance was preceded by a tribute video narrated by Queen Latifah, who called the American the “Queen of Queens.” The arena announcer called Williams “the greatest of all time,” and intoned: “This U.S. Open marks the final chapter of her storied tennis history.” She means a lot to a lot of people. As a tennis player. As a woman. As an African American. As a mother. As a businesswoman. “When she started out, female athletes weren’t getting recognized. She’s done so much,” said Quintella Thorn, a 68-year-old from Columbus, Georgia, making her eighth trip to the U.S. Open. “And now, she’s ...” “Evolving,” chimed in Thorn’s friend, Cora Monroe, 72, of Shreveport, Louisiana, using the word Williams says she prefers to “retirement.” Also read: Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams part of bid to buy Chelsea Which is why Monday mattered more than the usual Day 1 at a major tournament. And why the daily program did not make mention of any other of the dozens of athletes in action, showing instead a montage of six images of Williams holding her six U.S. Open trophies above the title: “Serena Williams, A Legacy of Greatness.” And why there was a sense of less importance for matches involving wins for other elite players such as past U.S. Open champions Bianca Andreescu, Andy Murray and Daniil Medvedev, or French Open finalist Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old American. After her own 6-2, 6-3 victory over Leolia Jeanjean earlier in the day, Gauff looked forward to sitting in Ashe herself to watch Williams, someone she credits with inspiring her to play tennis. Gauff’s original plan was to tune in on TV, but then she decided this was too important to miss. “Everybody is going to be on her side. I’m going to be cheering for her,” Gauff said. “It’s going to be probably one of the most electric matches that will ever happen in tennis.” Lived up to the billing. Now there is more to come for Williams and her supporters.
Even knowing what an unusual Wimbledon this has been, what with so many unexpected results and new faces popping up, and so few top seeds — and major champions — remaining, surely Novak Djokovic would not lose to a wild-card entry making his Grand Slam debut, would he? If it did not quite seem plausible, it did at least become vaguely possible a tad past 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night under the closed roof at Centre Court, when 25-year-old Dutchman Tim van Rijthoven — ranking: 104th; lifetime tour-level victories: eight, all in the past month — had the temerity to smack a 133 mph ace past Djokovic and tie their fourth-round match at a set apiece. All of nine minutes later, the time it took Djokovic to grab 12 of the next 15 points, and the next three games, both plausibility and possibility took a hike. Soon enough, the third set was his, and not much later, so was the fourth, and the match, a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 result that gave the tournament's No. 1 seed a 25th consecutive grass-court victory at the All England Club and a place in his 13th Wimbledon quarterfinal. Read: Djokovic playing his ‘best’ tennis ahead of French Open “Novak did his Novak thing,” van Rijthoven said, “and played very, very well. He had all the answers.” Beforehand, van Rijthoven had said: “I’ll go into that match thinking I can win.” Might have still had that sense Sunday evening. If only briefly. Eventually, the only true question was whether Djokovic would wrap this one up in time, because there is an 11 p.m. curfew. Running up against that would have required them to resume Monday. “Whew. I am lucky,” Djokovic said after closing the deal with 20 minutes to spare. “It's never really pleasant if you can't finish the match in the same day. Glad I did.” They did not begin playing until 8 p.m., in part due to a delay of roughly an hour at the start of this special afternoon — the first time in history the tournament's middle Sunday held scheduled play — while a ceremony was held to honor the 100 years of Centre Court. Djokovic, who questioned after his victory why matches generally begin so late in the main stadium, was among the many past champions who took part, joking to the crowd when it was his turn to speak, “Gosh, I feel more nervous than when I’m playing.” If he was, indeed, jittery at all at a set apiece many hours later against van Rijthoven, it certainly did not show. Didn't matter that van Rijthoven kept cranking out huge serves, to the tune of 20 aces, including a pair on second serves. Didn't matter just how big the cuts were that van Rijthoven took with his forehands. Didn't matter that the spectators, who love an underdog, were getting louder and louder as the second set came to a close. Didn't matter that Djokovic stumbled behind what he called a "slippery" baseline twice, landing first on his backside, later on his left knee and stomach. “He was on a streak on this surface, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. With that serve and a lot of talent, great touch, powerful forehand, he can do a lot of damage,” Djokovic said. “It took me a little bit of time to get used to his pace.” Djokovic, a 35-year-old from Serbia, calibrated his best-in-the-game returns, got his groundstrokes in fine form — finishing with just 19 unforced errors, compared to 29 winners — and was in complete control, a step closer to all manner of important numbers. His pursuit of a fourth consecutive, and seventh overall, title at Wimbledon, not to mention a 21st major championship, will continue Tuesday against No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy. Sinner reached his first quarterfinal at the All England Club by eliminating No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-3 earlier. Read:Djokovic heads for Belgrade after deportation from Australia The other quarterfinal on their half of the bracket will be No. 9 Cam Norrie of Britain against unseeded David Goffin of Belgium. They each advanced by beating Americans: Norrie beat No. 30 Tommy Paul 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to get to his first major quarterfinal, and Goffin edged No. 23 Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (3), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 over more than 4 1/2 hours. The rest of the fourth round is Monday, and the only men left in the field who ever have participated in a Grand Slam final are Djokovic and 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal. They are also the only men still around ranked in the top 10. It's a similarly unfamiliar collection of players chasing the women's championship, with just one who has appeared in a Grand Slam final (two-time major title winner Simona Halep, who plays Monday) and just two who were among the top 15 seeds at Wimbledon (No. 3 Ons Jabeur and No. 4 Paula Badosa, who plays Monday). Jabeur made it to the quarterfinals at the All England Club for the second year in a row with a 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory against No. 24 Elise Mertens of Belgium. The other women moving on Sunday are unseeded and in unfamiliar territory, never having been in any major quarterfinal. Jabeur next plays Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, while Tatjana Maria, 34, and Jule Niemeier, 22, will meet in an all-German quarterfinal. Bouzkova topped Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-2, Maria defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 after erasing two match points, and Niemeier beat Heather Watson 6-2, 6-4. “There’s no reason ... not to keep this going," said Bouzkova, who pulled out of the French Open in May after testing positive for COVID-19 before her second-round match. "Kind of believing in myself right now.” There's been a lot of that going around at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. Djokovic put an end to such thoughts for van Rijthoven.
Rafael Nadal's painful left foot was numbed by multiple injections to two nerves throughout the French Open, the only way he has found to deal with a chronic condition he acknowledges puts his tennis future in doubt. At any other tournament, Nadal said, he would not have persisted through what he called such “extreme conditions.” Also read:Nadal improves to 18-0 with win over Opelka at Indian Wells Ah, but five simple words uttered after he strung together the last 11 games of a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory over an overwhelmed Casper Ruud in Sunday's intriguing-for-a-handful-of-minutes final at Court Philippe Chatrier explained Nadal's mindset: “Roland Garros is Roland Garros.” And so even if Nadal, a French Open champion for the 14th time now at age 36, is in obvious ways different from Nadal, a French Open champion for the first time all the way back in 2005 at age 19, that desire to give his all, no matter what, to “find solutions" — one of his oft-used phrases — remains the same. He is the oldest champion in the history of a tournament that began in 1925, and his hair is thinning on top. The chartreuse T-shirt he wore Sunday had sleeves, unlike his biceps-baring look of nearly two decades ago. The white capri pants that ran below his knees back in the day were long since traded in for more standard shorts; Sunday’s were turquoise. Here’s what hasn’t changed along the way to his 22 Grand Slam titles in all, another record, in addition to his between-point mannerisms and meticulous attention paid to the must-be-just-so placement of water bottles and towels: That lefty uppercut of a topspin-slathered, high-bouncing forehand still finds the mark much more frequently than it misses, confounding foes. That ability to read serves and return them with a purpose still stings. That never-concede-a-thing attitude propelling Nadal from side to side, forward and backward, speeding to, and redirecting, balls off an opponent’s racket seemingly destined to be unreachable. Nadal is nothing if not indefatigable, just as he was in consecutive four-hour-plus victories earlier in the tournament — including against Novak Djokovic, the defending champion and No. 1 seed — and again on this afternoon, even while competing on a foot devoid of any feeling. “When you are playing defensive against Rafa on clay,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old Norwegian who was participating in his first major final, "he will eat you alive." Nadal said afterward he will try other methods of helping his foot — including, even, a way “to burn, a little bit, the nerve” — over the next week to see whether that might allow him to enter Wimbledon, where he has won two of his men’s-record 22 Grand Slam titles. Play begins at the All England Club on June 27. If these new treatments do not work, Nadal said, then he will need to consider having what he termed major surgery — and, eventually, a “decision about what’s the next step in my future.” “It’s obvious that with the circumstances that I am playing (in),” Nadal said, “I can’t and I don’t want to keep going.” During the trophy ceremony, Nadal thanked his family and support team, including a doctor who accompanied him to Paris, for helping him, because otherwise he would have needed to “retire much before.” “I don’t know what can happen in the future,” Nadal told the crowd, “but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going.” He played so crisply and cleanly Sunday, accumulating more than twice as many winners as Ruud, 37 to 16. Nadal also committed fewer unforced errors, making just 16 to Ruud’s 26. After trailing 3-1 in the second set, Nadal would not cede another game. Also read: Spanish Tennis Maestro Rafael Nadal Wins Record 21 Grand Slam Titles “After that moment,” Nadal said, “everything went very smooth.” Sure did. The view from the other side of the net? “I’m just another one of the victims," Ruud said, “that he has destroyed on this court.” One of the most indelible memories Ruud will take away from this day was hearing the announcer recite the long list of years Nadal had previously won the French Open: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. “Never stops, it seems like,” Ruud said. “That takes like half a minute.” When the players met at the net for the prematch coin toss, the first chants of “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” rang out in the 15,000-seat stadium. Ruud would later hear folks in the stands do drawn-out pronouncements of his last name, so it sounded as if they might be booing. Nadal is 14-0 in finals at Roland Garros, 112-3 overall. When this one ended with a down-the-line backhand from Nadal, he chucked his racket to the red clay he loves so much and covered his face with the taped-up fingers on both of his hands. No man or woman ever has won the singles trophy at any major event more than his 14 in Paris. And no man has won more Grand Slam titles than Nadal. He is two ahead of Roger Federer, who hasn’t played in almost a year after a series of knee operations, and Djokovic, who missed the Australian Open in January because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. For all that he has accomplished already, Nadal now has done something he never managed previously: He is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam thanks to titles at the Australian Open and French Open in the same season. But if he can't play at Wimbledon, which he has won twice, that doesn't really matter much. Ruud considers Nadal his idol. He recalls watching all of Nadal’s past finals in Paris on TV. He has trained at Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca. They have played countless practice sets together there with nothing more at stake than bragging rights. Nadal usually won those, and Ruud joked the other day that’s because he was trying to be a polite guest. The two had never met in a real match until Sunday, when a championship, money, ranking points, prestige and a piece of history were on the line. And Nadal demonstrated, as he has so often, why he’s known as the King of Clay — and among the game’s greatest ever. “It’s something that I, for sure, never believed — to be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most favorite court of my career, one more time in the final," Nadal said. "It means a lot to me. Means everything.”