UPDATED: 2:30 a.m. ET, Sept. 3
Originally published on Aug. 29
It took Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia three grueling sets to finally fend off Williams in the tournament’s third round at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the Queens borough of New York City.
Williams’ loss came in spite of a packed crowd that was overwhelmingly cheering for the woman widely regarded as the greatest tennis player of all time regardless of gender.
Among that crowd were a number of notable Black people who continued in what’s become a trend this week of attending the U.S. Open and representing for Serena. While we saw some of the usual suspects — including movie director Spike Lee, who attended all three of Serena’s matches this week — there were also some new Black faces in attendance on Friday night in an example of the outpouring of support, particularly from the Black community.
They, like pretty much everybody else in the house and watching elsewhere, wanted to either witness Serena clinch another win and extend her illustrious career by at least one more match, or watch her lose as she closes one chapter of her life while opening another.
After Williams announced earlier this month her intentions to retire from professional tennis, it became painfully apparent that the 2022 U.S. Open would not only be her last major tournament but it would also likely be the final time fans get to see her competing at the highest levels in a sport that she dominated for nearly three decades.
While Williams’ matches have always attracted A-listers no matter when and where she plays, this year’s U.S. Open took on a slightly different tone as there was a bit of uncertainty about whether she could win after having not competed in nearly a year’s time and not winning a major tournament since 2016. Williams also celebrates her 41st birthday later this month, bringing her to an age that is more than 10 years older than the average professional tennis player.
It was in that context that Serena was playing, amplifying the anticipation of possibly seeing the final match played by the GOAT (greatest of all time).
And so it followed that everyone from the obligatory presence of Serena’s adorable little 4-year-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., to legendary boxing champion Mike Tyson, provided the necessary presence of Black people cheering on the very person responsible for helping to propel the browning of a sport that has for far too long — and wrongfully — been exclusively associated with whiteness.
And for those notable Black folks who couldn’t attend in person, a pair of virtual salutes particularly stood out this week as none other than LeBron James and Oprah Winfrey offered their own homages.
LeBron took to his Instagram Story and posted a photo of Serena during her match Monday night. The picture was accompanied by a simple word of encouragement: “TALK!”
Oprah, on the other hand, feted Serena with a surprise video tribute to the tennis icon’s career following the Monday night match.
Scroll down to see photos of the other notable Black folks who made sure not to miss Serena Williams’ final U.S. Open before she retires from the sport of tennis.
1. Russell Westbrook and CiaraSource:Getty
The married couple had some free time before the NFL season begins this weekend.
2. Ben Simmons, Saquon Barkley and Pusha TSource:Getty
The unlikely trio was seen cheering for Serena in a private box.
The Grammy Award-winning singer has been a mainstay at this year’s U.S. Open.
Zendaya was trying her best not to be distracted while watching Serena play against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia on Day Three of the 2022 US Open on August 31.
5. Venus Williams and Tiger WoodsSource:Getty
We knew Venus would be there for Serena’s second match after losing her own opening round match the night before, but sitting near Tiger Woods was an unexpected flex.
6. Spike LeeSource:Getty
“I think of you as my little sister,” Lee said to Williams in a video posted on the U.S. Open’s Twitter. “Congratulations on all you’ve done. You’re definitely one of the GOATs. I want to give love to your parents and your siblings, because they’ve helped you, too. … Spreading love is the Brooklyn way.”
7. Isha PriceSource:Getty
Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., daughter of Serena Williams, Isha Price, Serena Williams’ sister, prior to Serena’s match against Danka Kovinic of Montenegro during the Women’s Singles First Round on Day One of the 2022 U.S. Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 29 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.
8. NYC Mayor Eric Adams and MLB star Francisco LindorSource:Getty
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (top C) and New York Mets Francisco Lindor (R) also attended.
9. Queen LatifahSource:Getty
10. Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.Source:Getty
11. Gayle KingSource:Getty
Gayle King interviewed Serena after the match.
Rapper Offset was seen sitting with model Bella Hadid as they both cheered on Serena.
13. New York City Mayor Eric AdamsSource:Getty
New York City mayor Eric Adams and his girlfriend Tracey Collins were in the house.
14. Anthony AndersonSource:Getty
“Black-ish” actor Anthony Anderson was there.
15. Mike Tyson and wifeSource:Getty
Mike Tyson and his wife Lakiha Spicer didn’t miss the event of the night.
16. Anika Noni RoseSource:Getty
Actress and singer Anika Noni Rose performed before Serena’s match.
17. Lori McNeilSource:Getty
Former professional tennis player Lori McNeil (left) was there.
18. Rick FoxSource:Getty
NBA champion Rick Fox was in attendance.
19. Gladys KnightSource:Getty
Legendary singer Gladys Knight was there looking proud of Serena.
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