Serena Williams is unlikely to advance to the third round of the US Open after a 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2 win over runner-up Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday night. event of her storied career for at least two more days.
The 23-time singles champion, who entered the tournament in 605th with just one match win in 450 days, won a thrilling opening set in a tiebreak before Kontaveit, the world’s No. 2 from Estonia, immediately broke to open second. and then two more times. force a decision maker.
Amid breathless pomp and a rambunctious sold-out crowd squarely in Williams’ corner, Kontaveit once again held her nerves by fending off the first five breakpoints she encountered and seven of nine in the first two sets. But after a trade-off of service interruptions early in the third, Williams broke again and held on to the finish, setting up another thrilling spectacle on the main show ground of the tournament she won six times.
After Williams crunched a backhand winner past her opponent at match point after 2 hours and 27 minutes, she calmly raised a scoop to her player box amid the roar of more than 23,000 spectators that filled Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“There’s still a little bit left in me,” said Williams, who has won 23 of her last 25 games against opponents in the top two, including eight in a row. “We will see.”
Williams advances to a third-round encounter on Friday against Ajla Tomljanović, an unseeded Australian who is 46th, in a suddenly wide-open section of the women’s draw. Among the other seeds to fall on Friday were No. 14 Leylah Annie Fernandez and No. 23 Barbora Krejčíková, whose departure means Williams cannot face another seeded opponent until at least the quarter-finals.
“There’s no rush here,” she said. “I love this audience. There’s still a little bit in me. We will see. I’m a pretty good player, this is what I do best. I like a challenge and I’m up for the challenge.”
Williams, who turns 41 next month and has been playing sparingly since last year’s Wimbledon due to a nagging hamstring injury, revealed her plans to retire earlier this month. Her diminished form was exposed in the US Open run-ups that followed the announcement – a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in Toronto, followed immediately by a 6-4, 6-0 stunner to Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati — leaving many observers pessimistic about its chances in Flushing Meadows.
But as she has done countless times in a panoramic 27-year professional career that has racked up more Grand Slam titles than any other player in the Open era, Williams has defied expectations by raising her level for her likely farewell tournament. Contrary to her nervous start to Monday’s first-lap win over Danka Kovinic, Williams’ service was dialed in from the start on Wednesday night, clocking in at 119 mph and hitting her targets at will. She hung with the big Kontaveit in muscular baseline volleys, moving across the field with a flowing thought that was long gone.
“I haven’t played many games, but I’ve practiced very well,” Williams said. “It has come together in the last few games. After I lost the second set I thought ‘I have to do my best because this could be it’.
“I just see it as a bonus. I have nothing to lose. I’ve had an X on my back since 1999. I really enjoy just coming out and enjoying it.”