Serena Williams was set to take center stage as the US Open got under way on Monday with the 23-time Grand Slam winner preparing to bid an emotional farewell to tennis.
After announcing earlier this month that the countdown to her retirement had begun, Williams faces Montenegro's Danka Kovinic at Arthur Ashe Stadium in what could be her final appearance in a Grand Slam singles event.
The 40-year-old sporting and cultural icon won the first of her Grand Slam titles at the same venue in 1999 as a 17-year-old prodigy.
In Monday's sold-out night session, which starts at 7:00pm (2300 GMT), Williams will once again be back in one of her favorite arenas wearing a typically flamboyant outfit.
According to the New York Times, Williams will wear a sparkling black bodice with a skirt comprised of six layers -- one for every US Open title she has won.
Whether Williams is able to extend her US Open campaign beyond Monday's match remains to be seen.
In her last outing in Cincinnati earlier this month, she was thumped 6-4, 6-0 by Britain's Emma Raducanu -- who herself was knocked out of the Australian Open by Kovinic in January.
Win or lose on Monday, Williams won't be departing the US Open stage immediately.
On Saturday, organizers confirmed that she and elder sister Venus Williams had been given a wild card into the women's doubles tournament, which starts on Wednesday.
Even then it remains unclear whether Williams will definitively call time on her career after her US Open campaign ends.
In an interview with NBC's Today show on Friday, Williams declined to confirm that she would retire in New York -- and would not even rule out playing into 2023.
"I think so, but who knows?" she told NBC when asked if she would retire.
But in a post on Instagram on Monday just hours ahead of her first round clash, Williams again signalled the end was nigh.
"Thank you everyone," she wrote. "It's been incredible."
Halep out, Medvedev advances
In early women's draw action on Monday, former world number one Simona Halep, seeded seventh, was the biggest casualty in the first round, crashing out 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 to Ukrainian qualifier Daria Snigur.
But there were no such problems for US teenager and 12th seed Coco Gauff, who cruised past France's Leolia Jeanjean 6-2, 6-3.
Meanwhile the men's draw got under way with Russia's defending champion Daniil Medvedev routing Stefan Koslov of the United States in the top half of the draw.
The Russian comfortably dispatched world No.111 Kozlov 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 in 2hrs 1min.
Medvedev, bidding to become the first man to defend the US crown since Roger Federer retained the title in 2008, faces France's Arthur Rinderknech in the second round.
Britain's Andy Murray, another veteran well into the twilight of his career, marked the 10th anniversary of his maiden Grand Slam win with a straight sets defeat of Argentinian 24th seed Francisco Cerundolo.
The 35-year-old Scot showed no signs of recent cramping problems in a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 win, but admitted afterwards: "It felt like five sets."
It was Murray's first straight sets win at a Grand Slam event since 2017.
Elsewhere Monday, Wu Yibing claimed a piece of history in the men's draw, becoming the first man from China to win a Grand Slam singles match since 1959.
The qualifier upset Georgia's 31st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.
But there was agony for China's other player in the men's draw, Zhang Zhizhen who squandered seven match points in a 3-6, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (11/9), 6-1, 6-4 defeat to Tim Van Rijthoven of the Netherlands.
Spain's Rafael Nadal, chasing a fifth US Open crown and 23rd Grand Slam title overall, begins his campaign on Tuesday against Australia's Rinky Hijikata.
By Rob Woollard
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