Serena Williams’ farewell tour took a different turn as she stunned second seed Annette Kontaveit to reach the third round of the US Open.
It was a fine performance from the diamond-clad veteran, who put on her best tennis since reaching the Australian Open semi-finals last January to win 7-6(4), 2-6 , 6-2.
The end of the dream – a Grand Slam singles title tied for a record 24 in his final tournament – is still a long way off, but this performance showed it could well be a possibility.
Tiger Woods was among the famous faces cheering on Williams, who revealed in a Vogue article announcing her “evolution” away from tennis that the golfing great had given her advice on getting one last chance.
It seems like a wise move now, and Williams, who will face Australian Agila Tomljanovic, clearly thinks she has more to offer.
“There is no urgency here,” she said. “I love this audience. There’s still a little bit left in me. We’ll see. I’m a very good player, and that’s what I do best. I like challenges and I take up the challenge.
“I haven’t played many games, but I have trained very well. The last two games together. After losing the second set, I said to myself: “I have to do my best because it is possible”.
“I just consider it a bonus. I have nothing to lose. I’ve had an X on my back since 1999. I really like going out and having fun with it.
There wasn’t the same electricity as there was on Monday night and a few empty seats as the Championship again played out a montage declaring Williams the greatest of all time before she stepped onto the pitch.
Like Danka Kovinic before her, Kontaveit has been left to fend for herself on the court, number two but largely supportive of the job on tennis’ biggest stage.
The support from the stands was, of course, almost entirely for Williams. Fans may have come with more hope than expectation, but it soon became clear the 40-year-old was here to play.
Williams had moved well against Kovinich and it was the same here, as her hits showed conviction and her serve, the best in women’s game history, was a shot.
Arthur Ashe Stadium erupted as Williams broke to lead 5-4, and although she couldn’t serve the set she kept it cool in the tiebreaker.
The celebration was downplayed as the job was only half done, and Kontaveit, who although ranked has struggled since contracting Covid-19 earlier this year, responded well at the start of the second set, increased her aggressiveness and rose to the occasion. . the game.
It made the early steps of fate decisive, and to the delight of fans, it was Williams who again took the lead, producing their best tennis of the match to take a 4-1 lead.
And in a disturbing nod to the rest of the field, Williams was cold at the sight of the victory, simply celebrating that she feels she still has a ways to go.
In contrast, third seed Maria Saccari, whom Emma Radocano beat in the semi-finals 12 months ago, lost 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 to Chinese teenager Wang Shiyu .
USA superstars Madison Keys and Coco Gauff had an impressive match in the third round, while fifth seed Anas Jabeur beat Elizabeth Mandlik, daughter of four-time singles champion Hana Mandlikova, 7-5, 6-2.