The U.S. Open hosted the closest thing to a farewell celebration that Serena Williams had in the opening round on Monday night. But if a party was what the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion wanted, she could have been sweating it out on a hard court in Florida.
Williams came to New York for more than just a ceremonial send-off, to hear another series of elegy about how she changed the sport and many others, how she broke barriers and paved the way for the next generation of black tennis stars and women The same goes for athletes, and after that. She knew it all, better than anyone.
As one of the greatest rivals in the world, Williams has another legacy like everyone else. She came to New York for what appears to be her final Grand Slam tournament, once again taking on the best players in the world on the sport’s biggest stage.
She won 7-6(4) 2-6, 6-2 on Wednesday night, better than world No. 2 Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, who, like Williams, only loves when she tries to overwhelm the stand She fires tennis balls when anyone is on the other side of the net.
If the first appearance two nights ago was about posterity and sweet send-offs, about a former US president and music and movie star coming out to see and be seen, then the second round was about doing everything possible to win before a tennis match A tennis match. Brand new galleries of bold names, like Tiger Woods in the Williams box, and Zendaya, and some 23,000 other very eccentric onlookers at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I still have a little bit left,” she said on the court when she was done.
“I love challenges, and I love taking on challenges.”
Williams will face unseeded Ajera Tomljanovic in the third round on Friday.
Regardless of who has the upper hand, it will never be a very delicate game. It’s a showdown between two players who are one of the best strikers in the world when they’re on the pitch, and two players who are at the other end of the game.
In front of another group, one of them (assuming she keeps her word) is playing to prolong the greatest career in modern tennis and show her daughter Olympia what she is capable of. Olympia, who turned 5 on Thursday, showed up at the game wearing the iconic beads her mother wore for the first time on the same stage when she started dominating the sport.
Another is trying to get what every young player wants – a chance to tell her grandchildren that she beat the greatest player of all time on a magical night in the biggest stadium in the sport.
Ultimately, a fight like this, especially on this court, will be better than any tribute video her friend, award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee has made. He made a great welcome to Williams, and took to the court again in her dazzling shoes, skirt, hair and warm-up jacket. won’t it?
The idea that Williams could somehow turn a ceremonial farewell match that was taking shape two weeks ago into a top sport began to take shape in her final game, which she won on Monday night, when she started rolling those who won Patented forehands and forging ahead for those patented volleys. Suddenly, Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in Williams’ prime was like so many other first-round victims of his defeat.
But for some shaky swings early on, Williams basically picked up where she left off, with a deep forehand that allowed Kontaveit to step back and hits that hit the batting line.
She hurried to the corner, desperately looking for the camera. She also brought in the sound effects, with the warrior muttering, “Come on!” screams. The sneakers screeched with every twist and turn on the pavement.
Williams finally broke for the first time in the ninth game, on her sixth break point, giving the crowd that had been accelerating all night into the first breakout. But Williams squandered the boom and failed to serve.
Two games later, the players went into the tiebreaker until Williams made it 5-3 and Kontaveit made a field goal. A service winner had Williams set the point, and an ace caught it, roaring through the open rectangle of Ashe’s roof.
Kontaveit is not considered the strongest competitor, especially in the biggest tournaments. She has only reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament once.
Maybe everyone in the building wanted her to leave for the night, but Contaveit didn’t. Instead, she pounced, breaking Williams’ serve three times to drag the game into the decisive third set, and there was an awkward murmur around the stadium as Williams left the pitch for a brief bathroom break.
There was nothing awkward about it for Williams. This kind of competition is what she came for, what she has been doing since she was a child, and what made her so conflicted about leaving the sport, and what she misses the most. Even with just five games in the 14 months leading into Wednesday, she could still be at her best.
That’s exactly what she did, and then some. Maybe if Williams and Kontaveit played their final game on some random tennis court in an empty park, things might have gone the other way. But it doesn’t. Playing an elite game against a magical backdrop is almost never, and Williams, a star born for bright lights, probably wouldn’t be of much use if it did.
Kontaveit had little to give her, save for Williams, who jumped a couple of short serve and broke twice early as she made it 4-1. Williams had to accept everything else, her chest and shoulders going up and down as she tried to hold her breath between an opponent who would never leave alone.
Williams won the game 4-2 after nearly tying Kontaveit, who delivered a topspin that grabbed the back of the baseline and sent Kontaveit to the back wall, almost Couldn’t get her own lob back. Williams met it mid-air in the middle of the court, another swing volley winner to go 5-2. It will be the second loudest roar of the night.
There was also a large one on Wednesday, several actually, as she sat in the chair and soaked it all. Looks like more is on the way. That’s what she came for.