NEW YORK — Playing more like a world number one than a player ranked outside the top 600, Serena Williams turned back the clock on Wednesday to stun world number two Anett Kontaveit 7-6(4) 2-6 6-2 and move into the third round of the US Open, putting her retirement plans on pause.
Defeat has always been hard to swallow for the fiercely competitive Ms. Williams and the 40-year-old American’s relentless will to win was on full display during an absorbing two-hour 27 minute contest of unexpected high quality, breathless intensity and drama. Ms. Williams had signaled her intention to retire earlier this month, saying she was “evolving away from tennis” but never confirming the US Open as her final event.
Any farewell has now been put on hold with Ms. Williams back on center court on Thursday for a doubles match with older sister Venus, followed by a third round clash with Australian Ajla Tomljanovic who was a 1-6 6-2 7-5 winner over Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina.
“I’m a pretty good player,” said Ms. Williams with a sly grin when asked how she downed the world number two. “This is what I do best — I love a challenge, I love rising to a challenge.”
“The last couple matches here in New York it’s really come together.
“I’m super competitive — honestly I’m just looking at it as a bonus.
“I have absolutely nothing to prove.”
With 23 Grand Slam titles and widely regarded as the greatest women’s player of all time, Ms. Williams indeed has done it all on the tennis court.
But after two wins and now safely through to the third round the once-unthinkable dream of a Hollywood ending to Ms. Williams’ career just might be in the cards, walking off into retirement with an elusive 24th major that would put her level with Margaret Court at the top of the all-time list.
Having been world number one for 319 weeks, Ms. Williams arrived in New York ranked below 600, unseeded and with just a single match win from three events coming into the season’s final Grand Slam.
It had been over a year — at the 2021 French Open — since Ms. Williams last posted back-to-back wins. She faced a daunting challenge in 26-year-old Ms. Kontaveit, a player whose game was built for the hardcourt and who won five of her six career titles on the surface.
With none of the pre-match festivities that took place ahead of her first round match to distract her, Ms. Williams stepped onto the court with her game face on and delivered a performance that had a packed Arthur Ash Stadium on its feet.
Ms. Williams claimed the first break to go 5-4 up but faltered serving for the set and Ms. Kontaveit broke back to ensure a tie-break.
The tie-break was of no less quality, Ms. Williams clinching it 7-4 in classic fashion with a thundering ace.
But the Estonian would not be intimidated by either Ms. Williams or a frothing crowd, grabbing two early breaks in the second set to jump 3-0 in front and easily take the set.
The third got off to a scrappy start with three breaks in the opening four games but two of those would go to Ms. Williams. She got in front 4-1 and never let go. — Reuters