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US Open: Serena Williams downs Kovinić in front of record crowd

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Serena Williams began her final US Open run on Monday, beating Danka Kovinić 6-3, 6-3 in front of a record crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

At times she looked like vintage Serena, and the dominance was a dramatic turnaround from tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati, where Williams fell in the second and first rounds, respectively. When asked afterward, Williams — who announced in early August her plans to retire from tennis — said that this tournament feels different from those previous.

“I was really emotional in Toronto and Cincinnati and it was very difficult,” she said. “It’s extremely difficult still because I absolutely love being out there and the more tournaments I play the more I feel I can belong out there.

“That’s a tough feeling to have and to leave knowing the more you do it the more you can shine. But it’s time for me to evolve to the next thing. I think it’s important because there’s so many things that I want to do.”

But before she moves on, though, Williams has to close out the US Open. She got off to a great start Tuesday, taking a 2-0 lead in the first set before Kovinic battled back to take a 3-2 lead. From there, Williams took the final four games.

In the second set, she was even more dominant and extended her undefeated streak in the first round of the US Open. She is now just the fourth woman in the Open era, alongside Martina Navratilova, sister Venus Williams and Kimiko Date, to win US Open matches as a teenager and in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

The two played in front of a sold-out crowd. The night session attendance of 29,402 sets an all-time record for opening night.

“I always feel so comfortable on this court,” Williams said in her on-court interview afterward. “When I step on the court I just want to do the best I can. The crowd was crazy. It really helped me pull through.”

Calling the reception “overwhelming,” Williams said it was a feeling that she’ll “never forget.”

Williams will next play world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit in the second round.

“At this point, honestly, everything is a bonus for me,” Williams said. “I think every opponent is very difficult. I’ve seen that over the summer. The next one is even more difficult. It’s good that I was able to get this under my belt.

“I’m just thinking about this moment. I think it’s good for me just to live in the moment now.”