With no fans to cheer her on, Serena Williams was left to push herself to a record-breaking straight-sets victory in the first round of the US Open on Tuesday.
The six-time champion did not need the help of a fan-filled Arthur Ashe Stadium to provide a lift during her 7-5, 6-4 win over the 96th ranked Kristie Ahn.
But at some point during the next two weeks at Flushing Meadows, Williams, as she has instinctively done many times over the last two decades, will look to the stands for a turbo-boost and there will be none.
“I think the hardest is making sure you stay pumped,” said Williams, when asked about the lack of fans and big-crowd atmosphere. “For me it was clearly easy because I’m always overly passionate."
“I love being passionate. It’s what I’m best at.”
Running on empty will take on a whole new meaning at the COVID-19 impacted US Open, where the boisterous energy provided by capacity crowds that pack tennis’s biggest stadium have in the past refilled fatigued players’ tanks.
While Williams was certainly not firing on all cylinders on Tuesday she began her US Open as she started 19 others — with a win — and improved her first round match record to 20-0.
And even after 20 years there were still records to be broken, Williams collecting her 102nd US Open win to surpass the mark she shared with Chris Evert.
The record Williams covets, however, is equalling Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles.
Down an early break in each set against Ahn on Tuesday, Williams constantly leaned on her biggest weapon, her serve, to get her out of trouble, hammering down 13 aces and winning 32 of 38 first-serve points.
But while her serve inflicted damage, her other weapons were not so sharp. And despite saying she was 'super fit' Williams appeared fatigued.
Although her court coverage was lacking, her power and experience were more than enough to see off the 28-year-old Ahn, who is still chasing a first career title.
Williams’s straight sets win was her first since the WTA Tour’s restart in August, as all five of her previous matches had gone the distance.
While Williams counted the positives to come from the win she acknowledged there is still plenty to work on.
“I felt like I wanted to be focused from the first point to the last,” said Williams, who lifted herself with screams and fist pumps throughout the match.
“I feel like I have been focused but I’ve been losing matches on literally one point that could swing a match a different way.
“I just wanted to be Serena, focused from the first point to the last point no matter what happens.”
'Black Lives Matter' banners swapped out as U.S. Open honors 'frontline workers,' NYPD
Large banners with the words 'Black Lives Matter' were removed from Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, on Tuesday, as part of a routine rotation and replaced with signage honoring 'frontline workers', including the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
The tournament said the banners would be changed periodically, as it plans to honor a variety of issues and causes, including LGBTQ rights and gender equality throughout the Grand Slam in Flushing Meadows.
"We are utilizing the 2020 US Open as an opportunity to bring awareness to a variety of causes and initiatives," a tournament spokesman said. "This includes what will be a rotation of the scrim design in both Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium, throughout the event."
Black Lives Matter, which advocates against police brutality against Black people, has taken a central role in North American sports, most recently after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Athletes protested and leagues including the NBA and WNBA shut down in a show of solidarity last week.
Naomi Osaka, who boycotted her Western & Southern Open semifinal in protest, strode onto Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night wearing a face mask honoring Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police officers in March, with the "Black Lives Matter" banner displayed prominently behind her.
By Tuesday morning, the banner was gone.
"Thank you frontline workers," the new banners read, along with an image of the caduceus, a symbol long associated with medical professionals, and the acronyms 'FDNY,' referring to the New York City Fire Department, and 'NYPD'.
A smaller, three-row section of the stadium honoring Black Lives Matter with the words 'Moving Black lives to the front' remained.