Serena Williams improbably advanced to the third round of the US Open with a 7-6 (4) 2-6 6-2 victory over second seed Annette Kontaveit on Wednesday night, continuing what she strongly suggested would be the final. event of her career for at least two more days.
The 23-time main singles champion, who entered the tournament at 605th place with only one win in 450 days, won a tense opening set in the tiebreak before Kontaveit, ranked 2 in the world from Estonia, immediately broke to open second and then two more times. to impose a decision.
Amid panting pomp and a devious crowd reckless at Williams’ corner, Kontaveit kept her cool time and time again, battling the first five points of the break she faced and seven points of nine in the first two sets. But after a trade interruption to the service early in the third season, Williams broke again and continued to the finish line, impossible for another indelible moment on the main show court for a championship she won six times.
Once Williams crushed a winner with a backhand kick in front of her opponent on match point after two hours and 27 minutes, she quietly raised first toward her quarterback box as a roar of more than 23,000 spectators filled Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“There’s no rush here,” said Williams, who has won 23 of her previous 25 matches against first- and second-place opponents including eight in a row. “I love this crowd. There is still a little bit of me inside. We will see. I am a very good player, and that is what I do best. I love a challenge and I rise to the challenge.”
The American star qualified for Friday’s third-round encounter against Agla Tomljanovic, the unranked 46th-seeded Australian, in an abruptly wide open section of the women’s draw. Among the other seeded after dark on Friday were No. 14 Leela Fernandez and No. 23 Barbora Krijkova, whose exits ensure Williams won’t face another seeded opponent until at least the quarter-finals.
Williams, who turns 41 next month and has played limited time since Wimbledon last year with a nagging hamstring injury, revealed her plans to retire earlier this month in a personal article published in the September issue of Vogue. Her mini form was revealed at the US Open that followed the announcement – a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in Toronto, followed by a stunning 6-4, 6-0 to Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati – which left many many Observers are pessimistic about her chances at Flushing Meadows.
But as she has done countless times in a panoramic 27-year career, Williams has defied expectations by raising her bar in the virtual farewell tournament. Contrary to her jittery start to victory over Danka Kovinic in the first round on Monday, Williams’ serve was called from the start on Wednesday night, clocking up to 119mph and hitting her targets at will. I stuck with Kontaveit the big hits in my muscle baseline balls and moved around the court with a fluidity I long believed.
The fictional end of a 24th major championship tie-breaker for Margaret Court is still a long way off, but Wednesday’s match shows that the once-waning gap between Williams’ form and belief in a giant self is narrowing in time.
“I haven’t played a lot of games, but I’ve been training really well,” Williams said. “The last two games met. After I lost the second set, I thought, ‘I have to do my best because this could be it.'”
“I just look at it as a bonus. I have nothing to lose. I have an X on my back since 1999. I really enjoy being outside and enjoying it.”
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