NEW YORK (AP) — Serena Williams can call it “evolving” or “retiring” or whatever she wants. And she can be coy about whether or not this U.S. Open will actually mark the end of her playing days. Those 23 Grand Slam titles earned that right.
If she keeps playing like this, who knows how long this farewell will last?
No matter what happens once her trip to Flushing Meadows is over, here is what is important to know after Wednesday night: The 40-year-old Williams is still around, she’s still capable of terrific tennis, she’s still winning — and, like the adoring spectators whose roars filled Arthur Ashe Stadium again — she’s ready for more.
Williams eliminated No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 in the U.S. Open’s second round to ensure that she will play at least one more singles match at what she’s hinted will be the last tournament of her illustrious career.
“There’s still a little left in me,” Williams said with a smile during her on-court interview.
“This is what I do best,” she added. “I love a challenge and I’m rising to the challenge.”
Oh, is she ever. After beating 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic in straight sets Monday, then collecting her 23rd victory in her past 25 matches against someone ranked No. 1 or No. 2 against Kontaveit on Wednesday, the six-time champion at Flushing Meadows will play Friday for a spot in the fourth round. Her opponent will be Ajla Tomljanovic, a 29-year-old Australian.
Asked how she’s doing it so far, Williams replied with a hearty laugh: “Well, I’m a pretty good player.”
She hit serves at up to 119 mph, stayed with Kontaveit during lengthy exchanges of big swings from the baselines and conjured up some of her trademark brilliance when it was needed most.
After pulling out a tight first set, then faltering a bit in the second, Williams headed to the locker room for a bit of a break before the third.
Something had to give, someone had to blink.
When they resumed, it was Williams who lifted her level and emerged as the better player.
Just as she’s done so many times, on so many stages, with so much at stake.
“I’m just Serena. After I lost the second set, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I better give my best effort because this could be it,’” Williams said, surely echoing the thoughts of every one of the people paying any attention.
“I’m super competitive. Honestly, I’m just looking at it as a bonus. I don’t have anything to prove,” she said, which certainly is true. “I never get to play like this — since ’98, really. Literally, I’ve had an ‘X’ on my back since ’99,” the year she claimed her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open at age 17.
Williams missed about a year of action before returning to the tour in late June at Wimbledon. She lost in the first round there and was 1-3 in 2022 entering ths U.S. Open, where she is 2-0 this week.
Williams also has doubles to play, too. She and her sister, Venus, have won 14 major championships as a team and will begin that event Thursday night.
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