The US Open was the closest to the farewell celebration Serena Williams will allow for her opening match on Monday night. But if a party was all the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion ever wanted, she threw herself in and pulled off all those hours of hard-court sweats in her hometown of Florida.
Williams didn’t come to New York just for a ceremonial farewell, to hear another series of elegies about how she’s changed the sport and more, how she broke barriers and paved the way for the next generation of black people. Tennis and sports stars, and beyond, too. She knew it all better than anyone else.
There is another legacy that Williams has as much as the others – as one of the biggest competitors in the world. And she’s come to New York to compete in the Grand Slam tournament, which seems to be the end of it, once again putting her best self on the line against the best players in the world on the biggest stage in the sport.
She got this and more on Wednesday night as she won, 7-6 (4) 2-6, 6-2, outpacing Estonia’s Annette Kontaveit, the world’s second-largest player, a competitor who, like Williams, loves nothing more than tennis balls exploding as she tries to beat On who stands on the other side of the net.
If this debut two nights ago was about posterity and sweet farewell, about a former US president and music and movie stars coming out to be seen and seen, round two was all about doing everything they could to win a tennis match against a team. All-new gallery with notable names, like tiger woodwho sat Williams FundZendaya, and about 23,000 part-time observers at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“There are still a few things left in me,” she said in court when this was done.
“I love a challenge, and I love to rise to the challenge.”
He will face unseeded Williams Ajla Tomljanovic From Australia in the third round on Friday, and in this tournament she feels as if she has nothing to lose, after a career that saw a goal on her back.
“I’m having fun, I’m enjoying it,” Williams said.
No matter who won, this wouldn’t be a match with great skill. It was a confrontation between two players who, when they are, are among the best strikers in the world, and players at opposite ends of the sport.
In front of another crowd, one of them was (assuming she kept her promise) playing to prolong her greatest career in modern tennis, and to show her daughter, Olympia, what she was capable of. Olympia was five on Thursday and debuted at this tournament with the iconic beading her mother wore the first time she started the sport at the same stage.
The other was trying to get one thing every young female athlete wants—a chance to tell her grandchildren that on a magical night at the sport’s biggest stadium, she beat the greatest player of all time.
Ultimately, a fight like this, especially in this court, would have been better than any tribute video even her friend, award-winning director Spike Lee could make. And he did a very good job welcoming Williams, in her dazzling shoes, dress, hair and warm-up jacket, to the court once more. is not it?
Kontaveit, 26, said: “I grew up watching her win many Grand Slams. I always remember how she competed so hard for every point.”
The idea, that Williams could somehow turn what was shaping up a couple of weeks ago into one celebratory farewell match in a top-tier sport, began to take shape in her last win on Monday night, when she began rolling those patented forehands and dashing forward for those balls. Patented oscillating air. Suddenly, Danka Kovinic of Montenegro is like many other first-round victims who have overreached during the height of Williams’ powers.
But for a few shaky swings early on, Williams basically picked where she left off, swaying from deep forehands reeling back from Kontaveit’s crushes that rushed the lines.
I scrambled into corners to take out shots with swings of desperation. The sound effects also brought, the warrior hums, cries of “Come!” And sneakers screamed across the pavement at every axle and twist.
Williams finally made their first serve break in the ninth, on the sixth break point, sending the all-night crowd racing into their first rout. But Williams upset the boom and failed to serve the group.
Two games later, the players went into a tiebreak that lasted until Williams snatched a 5-3 lead as Kontaveit netted an equal shot. The serve winner got Williams to mark a point, and the ace resolved it, sending a roar across the open rectangle of Ashe’s roof.
Kontaveit is not known to be the strongest of competitors, especially in the major leagues. You’ve only reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament once.
Everyone in the building probably wanted her to go away all night, but Kontaveit had none. Instead, she pounced, breaking Williams three times to send the match into the decisive third set. An embarrassing attack ran around the field as Williams walked off the field for a brief bathroom break.
For Williams, there was nothing embarrassing about all of this. That kind of competition is what she came for, what she’s been doing since she was a little girl, and the thing that makes her so ambivalent about leaving the sport and what she’s going to miss the most. She can still hold out with the best even after playing just five games in the 14 months of entering Wednesday.
And that’s exactly what I did, and then some. Perhaps if Williams and Kontaveit’s last combinations were revealed on a random tennis court in an empty park, things might have gone the other way. But she didn’t. Elite competition on a magical backdrop almost never does, and Williams, the star made for the bright lights, probably wouldn’t be of much use if it did.
Kontaveit gave her very little, other than a few short serves that Williams jumped into to make two early servings en route to a 4-1 lead. Williams had to take on everything else, her chest and shoulders rising and falling as she tried to catch her breath between points against an opponent who would never walk away alone.
Williams fielded 4-2 with a point to win the game after letting Kontaveit nearly tied, and a curling volley shot up the back of the baseline and sent Kontaveit into the back wall, barely able to get the ball back. Williams met him in the middle of the field to take another winner in the 5-2 swing. It brought what could be the second loudest roar into the night.
There was another big one coming on Wednesday, a few of which were sitting in her chair and soaking everything in it. It looks like more is on the way.
This is what she came for.
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