|Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York Events: 29 Aug-11 Aug September|
|Cover: Daily radio commentary via BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app, with selected live text commentary and match reports on the website and app|
From the glowing video tributes and a slew of A-list stars in attendance, everything pointed to Serena Williams’ imminent retirement on a celebratory night at the US Open.
William’s first-round game on Monday – which could have been the finale of her storied career – was the centerpiece of an emotional fanfare at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion recently announced that she plans to “evolve” away from the sport and her home major is expected to be a bye.
But after defeating Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in the first round, 40-year-old Williams continued to play a guessing game.
When asked if this would definitely be her last tournament, she smiled and said, “I was pretty vague about it. I’ll be vague because you never know.”
Night matches at Ashe always create an electrifying atmosphere, but this was on a different level than many others, giving a sense of theater and drama not often seen in a tennis event.
It began with a video montage paying homage to Williams’ achievements as a player and person as she waited backstage before arriving in a glittering caped dress and diamond-encrusted sneakers.
A number of notable celebrities from the worlds of fashion, film, television, music and politics watched from the crowd before tennis legend Billie Jean King and television icon Oprah Winfrey paid tribute in another post-match celebration.
That came after Williams showed she can still win at the highest level, overcoming a bumpy start to beat world No. 80 Kovinic in straight sets.
When asked if nights like this had changed her mind about her retirement plans, the former world number one said: “It’s still extremely difficult because I absolutely love being out there.
“The more tournaments I play, the more I can belong out there. It’s a difficult feeling, and knowing that the more you do, the more you can shine.
“But it’s time for me to move on to the next thing. I think it’s important because there are so many other things I want to do.”
Williams is alive in the moment – but what’s next?
With this potential departure from Williams, it came as no surprise that the US Open – which she has won six times – wanted to honor one of her greatest champions in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
But her victory also raises the question of what will happen after when – or maybe when? – she loses these two weeks in New York.
“It was so loud. I was just blown away in a good way,” Williams said of the reception as she walked out.
“I just thought: Is that real? At the same time I also think: I still have a match to play.”
At the 2021 Australian Open, Williams said she would not tell anyone when it was time to retire and was upset when she continued to be pressured in Melbourne.
Many thought that day had already come after not playing for almost a year, but then she returned to the tour in preparation for this year’s Wimbledon.
Then, last month, came the announcement in Vogue about her plan to “evolve” from the sport.
Sources close to the former world number one have told BBC Sport it is definitely the end for Williams, who wants to expand her family with husband Alexis and give four-year-old daughter Olympia a brother or sister.
Many players, including Williams, have made successful returns to the sport after becoming mothers, but none comes as old as a player who turns 41 next month.
Perhaps the US Open’s plan was to celebrate their career in the guise of victory? And then let Williams – who says she was “really emotional” after recent losses in Toronto and Cincinnati – fall off relatively calmly after each exit at Flushing Meadows.
On Wednesday she meets second-seeded Estonian Anett Kontaveit, who has struggled to maintain consistent form this year despite her placement.
“At this point, honestly, everything is a bonus for me,” Williams said when asked about the second-round game.
“I mean, I think every opponent is very difficult. I saw that in the summer. The next one is even more difficult.
“It’s good that I was able to get that under my belt. I don’t know, I just don’t even think about it.
“I’m just thinking about this moment. I think it’s good for me just to live in the moment now.”