It was a performance that had Tiger Woods standing and pumping his fist, a sight usually seen on the 18th hole of a golf course, rather than in the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Serena Williams advanced to the third round of the US Open in what could be the final singles tournament of her career, beating Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6, 2 on Wednesday evening -6 and 6-2.
Williams was cheered and cheered at every point by the home crowd. That included Woods, who watched the drama unfold with his partner, Erica Herman, from the Williams player’s box.
“It was a privilege to see greatness. Congratulations @serenawilliams,” the 15-time major champion he tweeted after the match
Williams later paid tribute to Woods and his influence on the later stages of her tennis career.
“It’s one of the reasons I’m here, one of the main reasons I’m still playing,” he told reporters. “We talked a lot. I was really trying to motivate myself. There are a few people, but we were like, ‘OK, we can do this together, you know?'”
Woods wasn’t the only athlete to offer words of encouragement. “It’s not over yet @serenawilliams,” he tweeted Steph Currywhile her fellow NBA star Chris Paul he said he had “never seen anything like what Serena Williams is doing… I’m a fan and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Having announced last month that she will “evolve away from tennis” after this year’s US Open, Williams’ farewell to tennis has clearly captured the imagination of the sporting world at large and beyond.
“Thank you @SerenaWilliams for inspiring people around the world with your talent, grace and determination both on and off the court.” he tweeted Vice President Kamala Harris. “We celebrate all that you have been, all that you are, and all that is yet to come.”
Williams, who is aiming for her 24th Grand Slam singles title, will face Australian Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday in what will be her first third-round match at a Grand Slam since the French Open in last year.
And despite her time away from the game over the past 12 months, the 40-year-old proved on Wednesday that she still has what it takes to beat the world’s best players. According to ESPN, Williams has now won 23 of his last 25 matches against players ranked in the top two, a streak that dates back to 2007.
“I’m playing pretty good,” he said. “I’ve been practicing really well, but it hasn’t come together in the games.
“But, you know, it’s coming together now, I guess. I mean, I had to bring it together today. It worked.”
Asked after the match if she could win the tournament, Williams said she “can’t think that far ahead”. It would be her first Grand Slam title since the 2017 Australian Open and tie her with Margaret Court’s all-time singles record.
The boisterous crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium has shown it is ready to take Williams in that direction during her first two matches, an extra challenge for anyone who faces her.
Williams’ opening match against Danka Kovinić on Monday was attended by 29,402 fans, a record for a night session on the US Open’s main court.
“You can expect something, I saw that from the previous match,” Kontaveit told reporters of the partisan atmosphere. “But when you’re on the court, I mean, it was tough. … It was something I’ve never experienced before.”
It remains unclear whether this will be the final tournament of Williams’ career.
She also takes part in the doubles competition alongside her sister Venus, and will play their first match against Czech pair Linda Nosková and Lucie Hradecká on Thursday.
Expecting another sold-out crowd, Williams is partly relishing the chance to play in New York once more and partly thinking about the task at hand.
“I think these moments are clearly fleeting,” he said. “For me, it’s really about having a little embrace (of the occasion) but also understanding that I’m here to focus and do the best I can this time.”