Love and affection as the curtain rises on Serena’s farewell party

Star of the show: Serena Williams enters the court

COREY SIPKIN

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UPDATES after the game

Serena Williams walked into Arthur Ashe Stadium with her diamond-encrusted dress glistening under the New York sky, more than 23,000 people shouted their approval.

Poor Danka Kovinic, her opponent, must have felt like the loneliest woman at the US Open.

“We love you Serena,” fans shouted as the 23-time Grand Slam title winner appeared for what could have been the last singles match of her career.

Their fervor was more intense just under two hours later when she secured a place in the next round with a 6-3, 6-3 victory.

This being New York, there were no limits to hype or expectation.

“GREATEST OF ALL TIME” shouted the on-court videos followed by “#Twirl for Serena”, a plea to emulate the player’s signature victory celebration.

Anyone who was anyone wanted to witness history if this were to be the legend’s last hurrah.

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, nursing her pet dog, sat next to heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

There were former US President Bill Clinton, Hollywood star Hugh Jackman, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and fashion designer Vera Wang.

In a post-match celebration of Williams’ 27-year career, Billie Jean King hailed her compatriot.

“Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us,” she said.

Williams’ outfit caught the eye, a skirt designed with six layers – one tier for each US Open title she’s won – and a diamond-encrusted bodice.

“It’s a dress made for a supernova farewell,” The New York Times said.

Williams later revealed that she tailored the dress on the fly.

“I have six layers to represent the six wins but took four off because it was too heavy,” she said.

Earlier, as Kovinic sat patiently at the edge of the yard, actress and rapper Queen Latifah narrated a trailer of Serena’s greatest moments.

“Queen of this, this and that. Queen of style, queen of grace. You have rewritten history, page after page.”

Serena hasn’t officially committed to retirement, but Queen Latifah seems to know more.

“If you decide to return, the throne will be waiting for you. The queen of our hearts.”

Director Spike Lee, a regular at Flushing Meadows, got one of his most valuable close-ups to help with the pregame pitch.

But it wasn’t just the glitter that was in full force on Monday.

Loyal Williams fans had traveled far and wide to witness what might have been the icon’s final appearance.

Tia Green had arrived from Oklahama City and, along with her four cousins ​​from Indiana, explained what Williams meant to them.

“For minorities, she’s an ambassador. She showed that we could do things that we thought we couldn’t do,” the 55-year-old African-American woman told AFP.

“For a little girl from Compton, California, playing with her sister and being able to realize what she’s achieved is a big inspiration, that you can do whatever you want, no matter what.”

The five women wore brightly colored T-shirts with the slogan “Unapologetic greatness, GOAT”.

Green watched the sprawling tennis complex and saw another impact of Williams’ legacy.

“You can see the diversity in the crowd. Ten, 20 years ago, this place didn’t look like this.”

Another fan, born in Beirut and a US citizen since 1999, Queen’s Olmazah watched the game eight rows later.

His ticket was bought for him by his daughter. Together they held up a banner with the words: “Thank you King Richard for Queen Serena” in honor of the player’s father and coach.

From his perspective, the dream was kept alive as Williams shrugged off a plague of double faults to win the opening set.

“It’s a dream come true to finally see her here,” said Olmazah who gave only one name.

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