Serena Williams is improbably through to the third round of the US Open after a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 win over the second-seeded Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday night, extending what she’s strongly hinted will be the final event of her storied career for at least two more days.
The 23-time major singles champion, who entered the tournament ranked 605th with only one match win in 450 days, won a tense opening set in a tiebreaker before Kontaveit, the world No 2 from Estonia, broke immediately to open the second then twice more to force a decider.
After a trade of service breaks early in the third, Williams broke again and held on through the finish line, conjuring yet another thrill on the main show court of the tournament she’s won six times. Once she crunched a backhand winner past her opponent on match point after 2hr 27min, Williams calmly raised a first toward her player box amid the roars of more than 23,000 spectators who packed the corners of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“There’s a little left in me,” said Williams, who has won 23 of her past 25 matches against opponents ranked in the top two including eight straight. “We’ll see.”
Williams advances to a third-round meeting on Friday against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanović 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 departures ensure that Williams can’t face another seeded opponent until at least the quarter-finals.
“It’s no rush here,” she said. “I’m loving this crowd. There’s still a little left in me. We’ll see. 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 practicing really 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.”