Kevin Mitchell’s dispatch from Arthur Ashe on Serena’s sharp opening night win.
The view from the player’s box.
Around the grounds, Juan Martin del Potro bageled Donald Young in the first set of their match on Armstrong, and Dominic Thiem won easily in three sets. Ryan Harrison and Kevin Anderson did battle for 4 hours and 14 minutes on court 17, with the South African prevailing 7-6, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
And with that, I hands the reigns back over to Bryan Graham, coming to you from Flushing Meadows.
Serena, after winning her 35th career match under the lights in Ashe, will face German Carina Witthoeft in round two. Her and Venus, who plays the the hard-hitting Camilla Giorgi next, are just one win away from a third round clash in the top quarter of the women’s draw – which is wide open after no. 1 seed Simona Halep’s shocking loss to Kaia Kanepi today. “That was good news,” Serena jokes (?) about the upset.
Talking to Pam Shriver and Chris McKendry now, Serena says she was “not tight but anxious” on the court tonight, and that after a rough summer she worked on her movement and her return, both of which were in form. And after being asked about Kelly Clarkson opening for her, Serena reveals she and Alexis Ohanian considered the original American Idol victory song, A Moment Like This, for their first dance at their wedding.
Finished off with an ace! Things were close for about 30 minutes in this one, but the American only needed one break to find another gear. She won 57 points to Linette’s 36, plus a solid but unremarkable winners to errors ratio of 22 to 18. Williams also never faced a break point, and her serve generally gets better the further she advances in Slams.
“The first set was tight,” she tells MJ Fernandez in the post-match interview. “I think that I’m getting there. I’ve been training so hard.”
She also talks a bit about Olympia, who she didn’t get to see today. “This mama was a little emotional, but I got through it,” she says.
Second set: Williams 6-4, 5-0 Linette* (*denotes server): Barely 20 minutes have elapsed in the second set and Serena breaks a third time. She’s pushing Linette around at will now and will serve for the match.
Second set: Williams* 6-4, 4-0 Linette (*denotes server): After an 115mph ace, followed by another unreturnable serve, Serena holds to consolidate her two breaks.
Second set: Williams 6-4, 3-0 Linette* (*denotes server): Serena breaks yet again after a ridiculous passing shot off a Linette overhead. She picked her spot and was in perfect position. Forget the serve and return winners; she’s playing some incredible defense tonight against the Pole’s formidable groundstrokes and is running away with it now.
Around the grounds: Juan Martin del Potro and Donald Young are just getting underway on Armstrong. French Open finalist Dominic Thiem is routing the Bosnian Mirza Basic. And American Ryan Harrison is locked in a fifth set against 8th seed Kevin Anderson, a finalist at the 2017 Open and at Wimbledon last month.
Second set: Williams* 2-0 Linette (*denotes server): Serena lets out her first c’mooonnn after a tough hold. She’s got a bit of a cushion now in this second set, which means you can expect bigger and harder returns off Linette’s serve.
Second set: Williams 1-0 Linette* (*denotes server): Serena is dialed in on the return and breaks at love to take an early second set lead. This is the kind of relatively competitive but clinical win she needs to get herself settled into the tournament, especially with a 3rd round match against sister Venus looming.
After 42 minutes, the 6-time Open champ wins the first set against Magda Linette and their first-ever meeting. Serena generally doesn’t look her best in the first rounds of majors but, all things considered, she’s been sharp off the ground tonight, is serving well, and moving cleanly.
First set: Williams 5-4 Linette* (*denotes server): The Pole is staying in this one, but she’ll need to notch a break of serve to avoid falling a set behind. In 23 years on tour, Serena has lost one, yes one, first round match at a major, to Virginie Razzano at the 2012 French Open. That puts a lot into perspective after world no. 1 Simona Halep fell in the first round of the Open today for the second straight year.
First set: Williams* 5-3 Linette (*denotes server): Serena consolidates to put herself one game away from the first set. Linette is putting up a solid fight in these rallies, but Seren’a clutch serving and returning is the difference so far.
First set: Williams 4-3 Linette* (*denotes server): And just like that, Serena breaks after a rocket of a forehand return and a sloppy Linette backhand. It was only a matter of time…
The two-time Aussie Open champ, former world no. 1 and working mom wins the first match of the very first official night session on the revamped Louis Armstrong court.
First set: Williams* 3-3 Linette (*denotes server): Serena holds comfortably at love to even things up again. In case you missed it, read her touching Instagram post last week about being a new mother and struggling with postpartum depression.
First set: Williams 2-3 Linette* (*denotes server): We remain on serve as Linette, a solid baseliner who’s notched wins this year over both Daria Kasatkina and Evgeniya Rodina, holds yet again. So far this match is relatively high quality, if especially humid.
First set: Williams* 2-2 Linette (*denotes server): Serena holds easily – and her serve is heating up, which is never good news for whoever’s across the net.
Check out this dispatch from Simon Cambers on Sam Stosur, who’s returning to the tournament where she took down Serena in the 2011 final.
First set: Williams 1-2 Linette* (*denotes server): Linette holds to keep things on serve. So far, she’s absorbing Serena’s pace quite well. The American, for her part, is doing her best to finish points off at the net and seems to be settling in. Williams didn’t look all that comfortable moving forward in the Wimbledon final against Kerber, a sly counterpuncher, but she’s clearly resolved to stay aggressive tonight.
First set: Williams* 1-1 Linette (*denotes server): Though she’s racked up six unforced errors in the first two games, thanks to a few wild forehands, Serena holds to even things up at 1-1. Debuting a new dress from the Nike-Virgil Abloh collaboration, Serena looks to be easing her way into this one.
First set: Williams 0-1 Linette* (*denotes server): Linette opens with a hold after a few bruising rallies. Serena’s hitting her groundstrokes cleanly so far but missed an easy put-away volley at 0-30.
Linette, the 26 year-old from Poland, will serve to kick things off.
Serena was predictably terse in her pre-match interview with Mary Joe Fernandez, but she seems pumped to be back at the Open for the first time since 2016. That was the year she bowed out shockingly to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals, just two matches away from completing a calendar-year Grand Slam. Williams last won this tournament in 2014.
Updates from around Flushing Meadows: Victoria Azarenka took the first set 6-3 over Viktoria Kuzmova on Armstrong. They’ll be followed by no. 3 seed and ‘09 Open champ Juan Martin del Potro, who’s taking on the American Donald Young. Elsewhere, 18 year-old Felix Auger Aliassime split sets with fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov before he was brutally forced to retire with heart issues. The two shared a touching embrace at the net. And Americans Denis Kudla and Ryan Harrison are in good positions to advance to round two: Kudla’s up two sets on Italian Matteo Berretini while Harrison’s staging a comeback against 8th seed Kevin Anderson, who’s being treated for cramps.
If you’re just tuning in, Kelly Clarkson is performing a medley of hits old and new before Serena Williams takes on Magda Linette in the first night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Williams will be followed by top-ranked Rafael Nadal, who plays countryman David Ferrer, who’ll certainly go down as one of the best players of this era to have not won a Grand Slam title. Ferrer’s expected to retire after the US Open, so his first-rounder against Rafa is not wanting for storylines.
The family of the great Arthur Ashe is in attendance at the stadium named for him as Billie Jean King and USTA president Katrina Adams ring in the 50th anniversary of his historic win at the ‘68 Open. Some essential reading material on the 3-time major champion and civil rights hero: John McPhee’s New Yorker piece Levels of the Game, on Ashe and Clark Graebner’s ‘68 US Open semi, and this touching reflection on his “quiet heroism” in today’s New York Times.
For those of you not watching ESPN’s coverage of the Open, John McEnroe and Chrissie Evert are in a heated debate about whether or not Serena needs matchplay entering the year’s final slam (“You go on and talk about the women’s game,” Evert tells Johnny Mac sarcastically).
Serena’s 12-5 on the year with just seven tournaments under her belt. Her best result, of course, was making the final at Wimbledon last month, where she lost to Angelique Kerber. She looked impressive at the French Open, too, where she withdrew before a much-anticipated 4th rounder against Maria Sharapova. But she won only one match over the summer hard court season, losing badly to Johanna Konta in San Jose and falling to Petra Kvitova in three sets Cincinnati. “I feel like everything is just different in terms of I’m living a different life, I’m playing the U.S. Open as a mom,” Williams said in a pre-tournament presser on Saturday. “It’s just new and it’s fresh.”
Also, Nike’s released yet another awesome ad, with home footage of a mini-Serena cross-cut with some of her best US Open moments (she’s won the tournament six times, in 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014).
While we wait for the main event (preceded by a performance by Kelly Clarkson), some scores from around the grounds. Young Canadians Denis Shapovalov (b. 1999) and Felix Auger Aliassime (b. 2000) are tied at one set a piece on Grandstand. Two-time Open finalist and former world no. 1 Victoria Azarenka’s just kicked off the Armstrong night session against Viktoria Kuzmova. Americans Stevie Johnson and Denis Kudla are each up a set in their first-rounders. And Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson is up a set and 5-5 against the speedy American Ryan Harrison.
Thanks, Bryan. In just a few minutes on Ashe, Serena Williams takes the US Open court for the first time since 2016 to begin her quest for a record 24th major title. She’ll play 60th-ranked Pole Magda Linette, who she’s never faced before. Her sister Venus, however, who just gutted out a three-set win over Svetlana Kuznetsova, is 3-0 lifetime against Linette, and surely gave her younger sister some insight.
Now as the crowds funnel into Arthur Ashe Stadium for the glitzy opening ceremony, I’ll hand off to our Jake Nevins for the next few hours.