NEW YORK: Heather Watson was on the other side of the net in the Wimbledon third-round match of seven summers ago. The Briton had the explicit backing of the home crowd.
When she rallied to level set scores and had game points for a 4-0 advantage in the decider, it got uglier than usual. An opera of visceral sensations, the nag and snag of which perhaps channelled Serena Williams‘ fightback. But it was Watson who broke at love to take a 5-4 lead.


Earlier, during a changeover, the mighty American stood to deliver a message to the crowd. “Don’t try me,” she mouthed, wagging her index finger.
In the stands, Oracene Price threw up her arms in frustration. Her daughter, the world No. 1, who had won the first two Grand Slams of 2015, was slipping.
The 33-year-old’s play was imploding, but something deep in her recesses was building. A fire. One spark against the another. A Broadway musical of symphony and style. Serena, in her competitive finery, has always been the very picture of the fight.


The US Open then is Serena’s last competitive outing and for all the eulogies written on the iconic American nothing was more telling than her fight. That’s the weapon she’ll need to dial in when she takes on Montenegro’s 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic in the first round on Monday. Serena and Venus will also feature in the women’s doubles.
Watching Serena, who was ranked No. 1 for 319 weeks, swim against the tide, in less weighty affairs are a rousing sight. Like in the second round in Roland Garros last year where the 174th-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu was giving the almost-40 Serena a run around on the red clay. The American, in a pea-green two-piece, chased and heaved, charging up the line and across it, uncorking that dizzying cocktail of head and heart, angles and argument.
She reeled in spectators and made them gawping participants in the exchange. When she scratched and clawed her way through matches, you didn’t just watch it, you felt it. It was her expression, her compendious vocabulary of shot-making which by the end of the afternoon or evening became yours.


It didn’t always give her the result she wanted, like in that 2019 US Open final against the teenaged Bianca Andreescu when her play, caught in the knot of nerves, floundered.
The owner of more records than an overstocked music store, including 23 Grand Slams and two Serena Slams, which stand more than a decade apart, she’s longevity on two legs.
And fittingly, Serena’s fight blazed across more stages than those with the dimensions of a tennis court. An advocate for social change, she was the first active professional athlete to appear in feminine hygiene products. She threw her weight behind the Black Lives Matter campaign talking about her nephew, who she worried could be in danger of police officers because of the colour of his skin. She has repeatedly emphasized on gender equality, drawing attention to her personal struggles as a woman in tennis – where her contributions haven’t always been celebrated with the same élan as those of her male colleagues.
One of the greatest athletes ever, Serena announced her decision to walk away from tennis in a fashion magazine.
The almost-41-year-old binned the word ‘retirement’. It isn’t modern enough. “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution,” she wrote. “I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”
The fight then will live on, in her many ventures. Long may that fire rage.

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