Serena Williams is likely through to the third round of the US Open after a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 win over second-seeded Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday night, extending what she strongly suggested will be the final. event of her storied career for at least two more days.
The 23-time major singles champion, who entered the tournament ranked 605th with just one match win in 450 days, won a tight opener in a tie before Kontaveit, the world No. 2 from Estonia, broke straight away to open the second then twice more. force a decision maker.
Amid breathless fanfare and a rolling sellout crowd right in Williams’ corner, Kontaveit held her nerve once again, fighting off the first five break points she faced and seven of nine in the first two sets. But following a trade of service breaks early in the third, Williams broke again and held through the finish line, conjuring up yet another thrilling show on the main event field of the tournament she has won six times.
After Williams cracked a backhand winner past her opponent on match point after 2hr 27min, she calmly lifted first to her player’s box amid the roars of more than 23,000 spectators who filled Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“There’s a little bit left in me,” said Williams, who has won 23 of her past 25 matches against opponents ranked in the top two including eight in a row. “We’ll see.”
Williams advances to a third-round meeting on Friday against Ajla Tomljanović, an unseeded Australian ranked 46th, in a suddenly wide-open section of the women’s draw. Among the other seeds falling on Friday were No. 14 Leylah Annie Fernandez and No. 23 Barbora Krejčíková, whose departures ensure Williams cannot face another ranked opponent until at least the quarterfinals.
“There’s no rush here,” she said. “I love this crowd. I still have some left in me. We will see. I’m a pretty good player, this is what I do best. I love a challenge and I rise to the challenge.”
Williams, who turns 41 next month and has played sparingly since last year’s Wimbledon due to a nagging hamstring injury, revealed her plans to retire earlier this month. Her reduced form was exposed in the US Open that followed the announcement – a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in Toronto, immediately followed by a 6-4, 6-0 stunning to. Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati – which left many observers pessimistic about her chances in Flushing Meadows.
But as she has done countless times in a panoramic 27-year professional career that has seen her amass more grand slam titles than any other player in the Open era, Williams has defied expectations by raising her level for her supposed farewell tournament. Unlike her nervous start to Monday’s first-round win over Danka Kovinic, Williams’ serve was dialed in from the start on Wednesday night, clocking as high as 119 mph and hitting her targets at will. She hung with the towering Kontaveit in muscular baseline volleys and moved on the court with fluid thought passing.
“I haven’t played many matches, but I’ve been training very well,” Williams said. “The last two matches have come together. After I lost the second set I thought, “I have to give my best effort because this could be”.
“I just look at it as a bonus. I have nothing to lose. I’ve had an X on my back since 1999. I really enjoy just going out there and enjoying it.”