Serena Williams might just do it: end his outstanding career with a fairytale US Open victory that will be talked about for years.
Her 23 Grand Slam wins now represent a record for Open era– the modern era of tennis, which began in 1968. But after what we saw in the second round of the US Open, it’s not too far-fetched to think she can match Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record of 24.
Williams beat world No. 2 Annette Kontaveit 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 on Wednesday night to advance to the third round of what she said would be her final tournament. She will stand up Ayla Tomljanovic of Australia, who is ranked No. 46 in the world, on Friday.
“I’m up for the challenge,” Williams said in her post-match interview on the court. “I have absolutely nothing to lose.”
Think about it: who can beat her? Women’s tennis does not currently have a player as overwhelmingly dominant as Williams was in her prime. As of 2019, nine different players have won 14 Grand Slam titles. Kontaveit insists she was happy with her performance, but Williams was simply better, especially in the decisive third set.
While the world doesn’t. 2 broke Williams in the first game of their second set and continued to dominate and level the match, Williams returned strongly to open the third. She hit a pair of winners to hold her serve, and the crowd began to buzz with the realization that Williams wasn’t just going to roll over and enjoy the farewell plaudits. Instead, she took a 2-0 lead in the set.
There was no denying who the New York crowd was rooting for. “It was really tough,” Kontaveit said as she played in front of a crowd that was less hostile to her than devoted to Williams. “It was something I had never experienced before.”
Read more: What Serena Williams gave the world
Things got a little dangerous for Williams in her next service game when she blew a 40-0 lead thanks to two unforced errors and then lost the game in the third. But to her credit, she shook off that mistake and broke Conavyet again to take a 3-1 lead.
Williams won four straight points in her next service game to take a 4-1 lead. She hit a 108mph serve winner and then another strong serve to force Kontaveit to make an error. Kontaveit looked vulnerable. The coup de grâce came three games later when Williams crushed Kontaveit’s soft second serve just past her opponent with a backhand.
Before the start of the tournament, Williams said she was feeling good about her training. Now the quality of her work is on full display.
She looked almost exponentially better on Wednesday night than she did on opening on Mondaywhere she had to overcome her early nerves and careless mistakes.
On Wednesday, she hit the ball more distinctly and moved with more enthusiasm. Early in the match, she toyed with Kontaveit at one point, in classic Williams fashion, hitting balls from the baseline, sending Kontaveit spinning back and forth and wearing her down. Williams won the point. Kontaveit had to wipe the sweat from his brow.
“I feel like I’ve had a big red X on my back since I won the US Open in 1999,” Williams said. “But it’s different here. I feel like I’ve already won, figuratively, mentally.”
If her game stays on this trajectory, this win could also be literal. Be careful.
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