Serena Williams’ Tennis Swansong Breaks TV Viewership Records
October 24, 2022
By Richard Nachmias
August 29 was ESPN network’s most-watched opening-day and opening-day prime-time U.S. Open telecast ever. The evening tennis doubleheader hit 1.7 million viewers, a 279% increase from 2021. The first match drew an average of 2.7 million viewers. Fans watched Serena Williams defeat Danka Kovinić in the first round. This was the first time Williams had played since the tennis star announced her retirement from the sport after a long career of breaking boundaries and breaking records.
How does 2.7 million viewers compare to the typical U.S. Open first-round viewership? It is the largest- ever viewership for the first round of the tournament. To provide a comparison, 2.4 million was the average for the women’s final last year. So, more people watched Williams in the first round than watched last year’s finals.
The question is: How much of an impact was Williams’ retirement on viewership? The answer: probably a lot.
Williams proves she has no intention of ending her singles career without a fight, after beating second seed Anett Kontaveit. This second-round victory reached 3.6 million viewers. And it just kept getting better. The Williams/Ajla Tomljanović match scored a record 4.8 million viewers, making it ESPN’s most-watched tennis match in its 43-year history.
To catch a glimpse of the greatest of all time (“GOAT”) one last time, her fans from all over the world came up with creative ways to watch the match, such as on a flight, where all the passengers tuned in to their screens just to watch her play.
Many fans rushed to be there in person to witness history, with tickets prices rising this year compared to previous years. Williams' U.S. Open matches were the hottest ticket in sports, as fans flocked to watch the star advance. “Sales on StubHub for her Friday night session have doubled overnight," said a StubHub spokesperson. "Demand on StubHub for this year's U.S. Open is tracking to surpass the entirety of sales for last year's tournament, with nearly a third of the overall sales driven by the opportunity to watch Serena make her final run."
Serena Williams, the GOAT, has surely left her mark on sports. Not only has this been a watershed moment for ESPN, but also for the sport of tennis as a whole.