After it was all over, after winning a thrilling second-round match, after doing one of those iconic Serena spins on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium before replaying a video of tribute to Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams was asked if she was surprised by her level of play.
A 40-year-old underdog in the final days of her storied career, Williams had just upset the world No. 2, a US Open result that seemed in doubt until it became inevitable.
So… Serena, are you surprised?
Williams laughed as applause swept the floor.
“I mean, I’m just Serena,” she said.
Williams, playing what could be the final tournament of her career, won on Wednesday evening, defeating Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4) 2-6 6-2 in New York.
Williams looked better than in earlier games this year, where he was still trying to shake off the rust from a long layoff.
In Kontaveit, however, Williams faced a much tougher test and was undoubtedly the underdog on paper.
“After I lost the second set, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to play my best because this could be it,'” Williams told ESPN in a courtside interview after the match.
A boisterous but well-behaved crowd cheered her on at every point.
She referred to the long layoff in her interview on Wednesday, but said: “I love a challenge.”
“I have nothing to prove. I have nothing to gain. And I have absolutely nothing to lose,” he said.
Williams will face Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round. Tomljanovic, who was playing at the same time as Williams on Wednesday, defeated Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina 1-6, 6-2, 7-5.
And Williams doesn’t just play singles; will open doubles play with her sister Venus Williams on Thursday night.
“I need more games,” he told ESPN. “I love the challenge. Yeah, I haven’t played many games, but I’ve been training really well. In my last few games, it just hasn’t come together. I’m like, ‘That’s not me.’
Things have changed since he started playing the Open, he said.
She started singles play on Monday with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Montenegro’s Danka Kovinić. It was Williams’ third match since announcing to Vogue magazine that she will “walk away from tennis” after the US Open.
“I’ve never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking about it as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people ,” Williams said in the Vogue article published earlier this month.
“Maybe the best word to describe what I’m doing is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, towards other things that are important to me,” he said.
In her post-match press conference on Monday, Williams was asked if this is definitely her last tournament.
“Yeah, I’ve been pretty vague about it, haven’t I?” she said with a smile. “I’ll stay idle because you never know.”
The first-round win over Kovinić was the best Williams had seen since returning from injury. She has only managed to win one match since returning to the circuit in June and has been unable to approach the form that helped her win her last Grand Slam title in 2017.
But Kontaveit, who had said she was excited to play Williams, ran into a player who showed no signs of wanting to speed up her retirement.
“I think he played very well,” the Estonian said during the post-match press conference. “I mean, I thought I didn’t have a bad game.”
After the players split the first two sets, Williams upped her game in the decider, Kontaveit said.
“It really turned her on from there,” he said. “There are some spots here and there where I feel like maybe I could have served better. I mean, I was returning better. I was playing better rallies. I felt like I did everything a little bit better in the third set.”
The passionate pro-Williams crowd was also a challenge, Kontveit added.
“I mean, I don’t think they were rooting like against me. They just wanted Serena to win big,” she said. “So, I mean, I don’t think it’s a personal attack on me or anything. I mean, it’s fair. I mean, she deserves this, yeah.”
See how Serena Williams became one of the all-time greats
One of the greatest tennis players ever, Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and won the US Open six times, most recently in 2014. Now 40, Williams’ career is coming to an end as a final match, in any round. this turns out to be: it will be played at the site of his first Grand Slam singles victory, the 1999 US Open.
Then just a teenager, Williams burst onto the scene to stun world no. 1 Martina Hingis in the final and took the first step on her way to two decades of dominance.
After Kontaveit won her first Tour-level title in 2017, her true breakout year came in 2021 as she won four WTA tournaments to climb the rankings.
An aggressive player with a varied game and a powerful forehand, Kontaveit broke into the world top 10 for the first time in November 2021 and has been a mainstay ever since.
She is at a career-high ranking of No. 1. 2, the highest ranking ever for an Estonian, and at 26 was looking to improve on her best performance at a Grand Slam, a quarter-final appearance final at the 2020 Australian Open.
Kontaveit looked impressive in her opening-round US Open win against Romania’s Jaqueline Cristian in just three games, saying after her victory that she was “scoring” Williams in her match first round