Serena Williams rolls back the years to stun No2 seed Anett Kontaveit
wenty four years to the day since her US Open debut, Serena Williams rolled back the years to stun No2 seed Anett Kontaveit.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion defied the gulf of 603 places in the world rankings and the fact she had won just two matches in the last year for a stunning 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 victory.
In so doing, it kept alive hopes of a fairytale finish to an illustrious career having recently announced her retirement in an interview with Vogue.
Whereas she had looked tight and nervous in her opening-round match against Danka Kovinic and was beset by double faults, this time her serve was on song from the opening service game.
Such was the nature of the performance, it led to speculation she could yet have aspirations to match Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
Williams clearly has a long way to go but her draw has opened up and she would not face a seed until the quarter-final stage at the earliest. That said, world No46 Ajla Tomljanovic, who knocked out Emma Raducanu at Wimbledon a year ago, lies in wait in the next round.
Following the win, Williams said: “I’m loving this crowd. There’s still a little left in me. I’m a pretty good player. This is what I do best. I love a challenge and I’m rising to the challenge.
“I haven’t played many matches but I’ve been practising very well. The last couple of matches it’s come together. After I lost the second set, I thought ‘I’ve got to give my best effort because this could be it’.
“I’m just looking at it as a bonus. I don’t have anything to lose. I’ve had an X on my back since 1999. I really enjoy just coming out and enjoying it.”
Again, Arthur Ashe Stadium was packed out for what was potentially a Williams swansong. Her celebrity fans this time included Tiger Woods, the actress Zendaya and the singer Gladys Knight, although the start to the match was nowhere near as raucous as the preceding round.
In some ways, that enabled Williams to settle more in the match. There was a pivotal moment in game seven of the first set when she just held serve in an 11-minute game. She then broke immediately but, when serving for the set, capitulated but still had enough in reserve to edge a tiebreak.
The momentum of the match looked in danger of going the way of the Estonian in the second set as she broke early for a 3-0 lead, which she never looked like conceding.
After the set loss, Williams went off court for a toilet break and came back transformed – and she joked afterwards a little lighter, to break Kontaveit’s opening service game and seal what had seemed an unlikely win.
In the wake of her defeat, Kontaveit said: “I think you have to be ready for really great tennis because Serena has been such a big champion, winning all these Grand Slam titles for a reason. She definitely raised her level in the third set. She played amazing.”