The Serena Williams of old delights on delirious second night at US Open | Serena Williams

TonSerena Williams watched world No. 2 Annette Kontaveit in a suffocating, tense first set in the final singles match of her career ‘s performance responded to her challenge. In the second set, however, she barely persevered. When she saved a break point with a sweet arc A at 1-3, she raised her hands to the sky, furious for not being able to find that shot on every serve.

If this is any other 40-year-old in tennis history with the nerves of a year off and a final game, such downsides are to be expected. But this is Serena Williams. Not only did she bring herself to stratospheric standards, but she somehow fully lived up to them during her second night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. In beating Kontaveit, she delayed her singles retirement for another round by creating at least one final legendary moment in a career that filled them.

After the pomp of her first-round win, the second round felt different in the on-court ceremony and Billie Jean King speech. The crowd was a little quieter, not just there to say goodbye, while Williams focused on the laser. She was instantly locked in the high-intensity first set, which was filled with quality shots from both sides but dominated by Williams’ serve – still the best server in the world at 40. Under suffocating pressure, she locked the tiebreaker, as she has done so many times over the years – a serve that didn’t fight back, and then an ace.

To its credit, Kontaveit played a perfect second set, flashing winners from the wings and the kissing line, but Williams only came by by taking her level further and managing the game very well at the end of the game. respond. By the last few games, she had completely dominated the bottom line and wiped out Kontaveit’s serve to the end.

Considering her limitations, this is an even more remarkable achievement. Her first serve was mesmerizing, but averaged just 99 mph in the first set – she hadn’t been under much pressure over the past year, so was initially very careful, prioritizing accuracy and percentages instead not strength. Her movement, one of her greatest assets in history, has dwindled significantly, but she still found a way to dig a 19-stroke rebound deep in the third set when she needed it most. Despite her lack of game adaptability, she is a rock in the decisive moment.

In her two hours and 27 minutes on the court, she hit all the hits at least one more time: Aces she saved for important points and vicious comeback winners, roaring and pain, her heart was set On her diamond-studded sleeves. Halfway through the third set, Williams was frustrated by the call to the electronic line and let referee Alison Hughes know. Then she went back to the bottom line and turned her anger into winning tennis.

Serena Williams stands on court after win, raises racket and arms to crowd
Serena Williams celebrates her victory. Photo: Jason Szenes/EPA

It’s especially surprising considering how far she will look when she returns. Williams lost in the first round at Wimbledon and was easily eliminated by Belinda Bencic in Toronto and then 6-4, 6-0 by Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati. She described the final weeks of her career as very difficult to handle.

Williams came to New York with low confidence, but one last chance to impress in the final stretch of her career, with no more chances for redemption. The pressure can be stifling, but as she has encountered many times in her career, she stepped up. Her success stemmed from seeing her last game as a reward, not a burden it could have been. “I’ve had a big red X on my back since I won the U.S. Open in ’99,” she said. “I’ve been there my whole career because I won my first major early in my career. But it’s different here. I feel like I’ve won.”

She shined in the final game, ripping Kontaveit’s serve in the final game and clinching the title with a backhand comeback. When former player Mary Joe Fernandez dictated an on-court interview, her presence was a reminder of Williams’ absurd longevity. Fernandez, 51, has been retired for 22 years, but she and Williams were rivals in 1999. She asked Williams if she was surprised at how well she was on the court, which elicited a burst of laughter and a very sharp stare. “I’m just Serena,” she said.

On Thursday night, Williams will return to the same venue with her sister Venus for the last time they will play together in doubles, which may be more emotional and important than singles. She will then face Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday. It could be the night she finally says goodbye, or the next step in the last legendary game. In any case, on Wednesday night, she showed the world at least one unforgettable scene of Serena Williams.

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