NEW YORK — When Serena Williams announced her planned departure from tennis earlier this month, Jeremy Reese immediately sprang into action. With no clue when Williams would play — or how long she would be around — he sprang for US Open tickets for the entire opening week.
“There’s nothing like seeing Serena on center court at Ashe, especially at night,” said Reese, hustling toward the main entrance of Arthur Ashe Stadium. “I’m honored and overjoyed that I’ll be able to see her final match, or matches.”
Williams guaranteed that Reese would see “matches” this week as she opened what’s expected to be her final tennis tournament with a straight-set win over Danka Kovinic on opening night of the US Open on Monday.
The record-setting opening night crowd, and the surge in ticket sales and prices ahead of Monday night’s session (16,500 tickets were sold on Aug. 9 after Williams announced her retirement plans, surpassing the combined sales from the previous seven days) was all about the devotion to Williams.
The gravitational pull of Williams is what led Mailaika Beaty of Kingsford Heights, Indiana, to organize a friends-and-family trip to New York for their first visit to the US Open. The group of four — fellow Kingsford Heights natives Mericka Beaty and Angela Jeffries, and Tia Green from Oklahoma City — wore yellow T-shirts with the image of Williams and the words “Unapologetic Greatness! The Goat.”
“She’s the essence of Black girl magic, she gives every little Black and brown girl around the world hope and inspiration,” Mericka Beaty said. “When they started their careers wearing those beads, they let every Black girl know they were acceptable, they’re worthy, and they can be awesome.”
Charmaine Shields from Brooklyn rolled into Arthur Ashe Stadium with a posse that was nearly 40 people deep — “Serena’s Army,” as she called them — wearing an assortment of T-shirts all paying homage to Williams.
“My grandfather was a big Arthur Ashe fan, so I used to watch all the old school matches with him when I was a kid,” Shields said. “Coming to the US Open is a tradition, and when I found out this was going to be her last tournament, I absolutely had to come out.”
Rhonda Augustine and her father, Hugh Augustine, wore matching “Serena Greatest Ever” shirts as they made their way to the stadium.
“I’ve been coming to the US Open for 20 years, and we always try to come out for opening day,” Rhonda Augustine said. “Her greatness, her dominance, her passion is what I appreciate about the way she plays.”
Williams was definitely the recipient of the passion from the crowd during Monday night’s win. The stadium got so loud that her opponent, Kovinic, said afterward that she had a hard time hearing.
Credit Reese with being one of those who contributed to the electric atmosphere in the stadium in a match that attracted a group of celebrities so large that the event could have hosted a pre-match red carpet.
“What Serena has done for the sport changed the trajectory of how we view tennis in America,” Reese said. “It showed that you don’t have to be from a country club or be NCAA champions to be great, you can be girls from Saginaw and grow up in Compton.
“What Serena has shown,” Reese added, “… is that Black people in tennis can not only be successful, they can be the best.”