Aiken County elected officials watch Serena Williams's last match

·3 min read

Sep. 8—Two elected officials from Aiken County recently traveled to New York and watched what could be the final match of tennis great Serena Williams.

S.C. Rep. Melissa Oremus, R-Graniteville, and Aiken City Council member Andrea Gregory were in Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, N.Y., when Williams lost to Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 1-6, in the third round of the U.S. Open.

Williams is widely considered one of, if not, the best women's tennis players of all-time. She won 23 Grand Slam singles titles — seven Wimbledon Championships, seven Australian Opens, six U.S. Opens and three French Opens — and was ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association for 319 weeks, including 186 consecutive weeks. Williams announced in the September issue of Vogue that she was evolving away (Williams said she didn't like the word retire) from tennis.

Gregory called Williams a pioneer of the sport, particularly for minority women, and for working to make sure that female tennis professionals were paid the same as male tennis professionals.

"Besides that, her talent is so above and beyond anything you can experience on the tennis court for female athletics," Gregory said. "If you can't see her talent for what it is, then you don't know anything about sports."

She said she got a ticket for the Sept. 2 matches as soon as she learned Williams would be retiring from tennis.

"I said you know what, I've got to go," Gregory said. "It was a very impromptu trip."

Gregory said she ran into Oremus a couple of days later. She said she told Oremus that she was going to the U.S. Open and Oremus said she wanted to go, too. Gregory said she didn't realize Oremus was serious until she texted Monday morning asking for flight information.

Oremus said going was a last-minute decision knowing she could get to see Williams play.

"I took the chance and we saw her play," Oremus said.

Part of the excitement was watching Williams win her first two matches of the tournament.

Williams beat Danka Kovinić, 6-3 and 6-3 in the first round, and beat second-seeded Estonian Anett Kontaveit, 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-2, in the second round.

Oremus said she had some doubts Williams would beat Kontaveit.

"We didn't know if she would win the round before," she said.

Gregory added she was praying Williams would win and allow them to watch her next match.

On Sept. 2, Williams met Tomljanovic, and Oremus and Gregory were there to see it live.

Gregory said the two women played outstanding tennis that night. She said she knew Williams would rally in the second set ("That's what she does...") after losing the first.

"She won that second set like it was nothing," Gregory continued. "It wasn't an easy match for her to win but she overpowered Tomljanovic. And came back and rallied back."

Gregory said she realized the match was slipping away from Williams in the third set as Williams went down 5-1.

Gregory said she didn't want to take anything away from Tomljanovic but said she didn't think the final result of the third set was representative of what she saw.

"It was long, the service games were lasting forever," Gregory said.

Oremus said Williams played her heart out against Tomljanovic and that her play brought tears to her eyes.

Both Oremus and Gregory said they were glad they made the trip.

"It was an outstanding experience and very bittersweet," Gregory said. "When she lost and [said] her goodbyes, it was such an emotional moment. It was amazing. It really was. I was just so grateful to be a part of it."

"She [Williams] truly is the greatest of all-time," Oremus said. "She is such an inspiration to everyone who thinks they can't, they can. Tennis is the best game and I'm so thankful I get to play."