NEW YORK (AP) — Serena Williams can call him “evolution” or “retirement” or whatever she wants. And she can be shy about whether or not that U.S. Open will actually mark the end of his playing days. Those 23 Grand Slam titles earned him that right.
If she continues to play like this, who knows how long this farewell will last?
No matter what happens once her trip to Flushing Meadows is over, here’s what’s important to know after Wednesday night: Williams, 40, is still here, she’s still capable of terrific tennis, she’s still winning – and, like the adoring spectators whose roars once again filled Arthur Ashe Stadium – she’s ready for more.
williams knocked out No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2 in the second round of the US Open to ensure she plays at least one more singles match at what she hinted will be the last tournament of his illustrious career.
“There’s still a little bit left in me,” Williams said with a smile during his on-court interview, then acknowledged in his post-match press conference: “These moments are clearly fleeting.”
After beating 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic in straight sets on Monday and then claiming her 23rd victory in her last 25 matches against someone ranked No. 1 or 2 against Kontaveit on Wednesday, the six-time champion at Flushing Meadows will play for a spot on Friday. in the fourth round.
Her opponent will be Ajla Tomljanovic, a 29-year-old Australian ranked 46th. They have never met but Tomljanovic, who said she considers herself a Williams fan, thinks she knows what to expect from the American – and those in the seats.
“I was playing on court 7 my two matches so far at the same time as her, and I could hear the crowd. I’m like, ‘Court 7 isn’t that close.’ I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God, this pisses me off and I’m not even playing against her,’” Tomljanovic said. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it.”
Making Williams’ potential path perhaps easier if she can pass Tomljanovic: 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez and 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova both lost.
On Wednesday, Williams hit serves up to 119 mph, stayed with Kontaveit for long exchanges of big swings from the baselines and conjured up some of her trademark brilliance when it was needed most.
After releasing a tight first set and then wavering in the second, Williams headed to the locker room for a restroom break ahead of the third.
Something had to give, someone had to blink.
When they resumed, it was Williams who raised her level and established herself as the better player.
Just as she has done so many times, on so many stages, with so much at stake.
“I’m just Serena. After losing the second set, I thought, “Oh my God, I better try my best because this could be it,” Williams said, surely echoing the thoughts of everyone who was paying attention.
“I’ve never been able to play like this – since 1998, really,” she said. “Literally, I’ve had an ‘X’ on my back since 1999, the year she won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open aged 17.
Whatever rust accumulated when Williams missed about a year of action before returning to the tour at the end of June seems to have disappeared. She was 1-3 in 2022 entering the US Open.
“Now it’s kind of a coming together,” Williams said. “I mean, it had to fall into place today.”
Williams also has doubles to play. She and her sister, Venus, have won 14 major tag team championships and will begin this event on Thursday night.
Kontaveit, a 26-year-old Estonian, is a power hitter in her own right, the kind that has spilled over into women’s tennis over the past two decades after a pair of siblings from Compton, Calif. gives it.
But there is a caveat attached to Kontaveit’s standings: she has never won more than a quarter-final match in a Grand Slam tournament in 30 career appearances.
So maybe that’s why, much like with Kovinic 48 hours earlier, Williams’ opponent was introduced by name only, and Kontaveit walked out to some applause. Williams, on the other hand, received the full treatment: a video highlight, a list of his many accolades and a raucous salute from those in the biggest ever US Open turnout in a session overnight, 29,959, eclipsing the record set on Monday.
“It was his moment,” said Kontaveit, who started crying during the Estonian part of his press conference and cut it off. “Of course, it’s totally about her.”
As strident as a competitor tennis, or any sport, has seen, as confident as any athlete, Williams wasn’t about to dismiss the whole exercise as mere celebration of his career.
She came to New York wanting to win, of course.
Wearing the same shimmering crystal-encrusted top and diamond-embellished sneakers — replete with solid gold shoelace tags and the word “Queen” on the right, “Mama” on the left — that she sported on Monday, Williams was ready for the prime time.
The match started with Kontaveit picking up the first five points, Williams the next five. And they were going, back and forth. Kontaveit’s errors were cheered – even the fouls, drawing a warning for the crowd from chair umpire Alison Hughes for making noise between serves.
At the start of the third set, Kontaveit hit a cross forehand that caught the outermost edge of a sideline. Video on stadium screens showed how close he was, confirming the ball had landed. This caused boos in the stands. Williams raised his arm and waved a finger, telling his followers not to fuss.
If anything, Kontaveit received more recognition from the player trying to defeat her than anyone else, as Williams responded to great shots with a nod or a racket swipe.
“They weren’t rooting against me. They just wanted Serena to earn so much,” Kontaveit said, calling the treatment she received “fair,” even though it was “something I had never experienced before.”
Williams broke for a 5-4 advantage when Kontaveit pushed a long backhand, prompting screaming spectators to their feet – and Williams’ husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, also jumped in, waving his arms in its direction, in front of where Venus and Tiger Woods were two places apart.
Eventually, they went to a tiebreaker, and at 3-3, a chant of “Let’s go, Serena!” erupted, accompanied by rhythmic applause. Soon, Williams delivered a 101mph service winner and a 91mph ace to seal this set.
To Kontaveit’s credit, she ran to a 3-0 advantage in the second with 10 winners and zero unforced errors.
In the third, after a forehand volley winner put Williams one game away from victory, she raised both arms, then clenched her left fist.
One game and five minutes later, it was over – and his time at the US Open could continue.
When asked if she was a contender for the title, Williams replied, “I can’t think that far ahead. I have fun and enjoy it. »
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