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Serena Williams wins her first-round match of what could be her last U.S. Open

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Whenever Serena Williams may play her final match, it was not last night. Based on her statements, this could be her last U.S. Open. She says she plans to evolve away from tennis. But she won her first round match. NPR's Tom Goldman is in New York.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Serena Williams is a player whose stellar career has been measured in finals and championships. So when Williams walked out for a first round match to this...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The greatest of all time, Serena Williams.

(CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: ...She said later, it was overwhelming. She felt it in her chest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERENA WILLIAMS: I was just thinking, like, is this for real, really? And at the same time, I'm also thinking, you know, I still have a match to play, and I want to be able to play up to this reception.

GOLDMAN: And she did.

(APPLAUSE)

GOLDMAN: That was Williams winning the first set against Danka Kovinic. The 27-year-old hard server from Montenegro had a 3-2 lead in that set before Williams won four straight games to finish it off. Poor Kovinic. Nary a come on, Danka, was heard from the crowd. Suffice to say, nearly all of the record 29,000-plus who packed Arthur Ashe Stadium wanted Kovinic to submit to their queen. She ultimately did - 6-3, 6-3 - not without some strong rallies and serves, but Williams was in throwback mode, serving nine aces, hammering service returns and groundstrokes and wiping clean the very recent memory of her crummy play since coming back in June after a long injury layoff. Another surprise for Williams - a post-match on-court tribute where she talked about what she'll do in retirement, a word she hates to use.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAMS: I really wanted to spend more time at home and working on my spiritual life, and that was really important to me, so, yeah, it's, like, Serena 2.0.

GOLDMAN: But later, answering a reporter's question - is this really your last tournament? - she sounded more Serena 1.0.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I've been pretty vague about it, right? I'm going to stay vague 'cause you never know.

GOLDMAN: Maybe that's what a solid win does for you - keeps you vague. But the future could get clearer after Williams' next match. It's a tougher one against Anett Kontaveit, the No. 2 seed.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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