NEW YORK: After a glittering 27-year professional career in which she became one of the greatest players of all time, Serena Williams is preparing to bid farewell to tennis at the major where it all began. The 40-year-old sporting icon ended the guessing game surrounding her future earlier this month by revealing that the “countdown” to her retirement had started, with her final Grand Slam appearance expected at the US Open in New York starting on Monday. “There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction,” Williams wrote. “That time is always hard when you love something so much.” The announcement sets the stage for what will be an emotional farewell for Williams, who faces unheralded world number 80 Danka Kovinic in Monday’s first round at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Williams won the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles as a 17-year-old at the 1999 US Open, beating Martina Hingis in the final. That breakthrough victory confirmed what had become apparent ever since her professional debut four years earlier: that Williams, alongside sister Venus, was a rising force in women’s tennis. While 1999 marked her first singles Slam, by then Williams had already won mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1998. Her win in the 1999 singles final would light the touchpaper for the most dominant career of any female player in the Open era, her 23 Grand Slam titles second only to Margaret Court’s 24. While a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title is likely to remain beyond her next week, Williams has nevertheless produced a collection of records that in all probability will never be broken. With seven Australian Open singles titles, seven Wimbledon titles and six US Open titles, Williams is the only player, male or female to win three different Grand Slams six times or more. In total, she has won 39 Grand Slam titles — with 14 women’s doubles crowns and two mixed doubles titles to go alongside her 23 singles victories. Her longevity is also unmatched. She was first ranked world number one in 2002, and last held the position in 2017 —- an interval of just under 15 years. Williams has also collected four Olympic gold medals — three as a doubles partner with sister Venus in 2000, 2008 and 2012, and one singles gold at the 2012 London Games, staged at Wimbledon. Only three other players —- Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal —- have completed the career “Golden Slam” of all four major championships with an Olympic gold. Williams’ farewell to tennis in New York has become the hottest ticket in town. Her retirement announcement triggered a stampede among fans, with the first three nights of the tournament sold out. Secondary ticket markets have reported a surge in ticket prices, up 34% since early August. Whether or not Williams is able to extend her Grand Slam career much further than Monday’s first round remains to be seen.