The Serena Williams extravaganza continued on Wednesday night when the evening session set another attendance record and Arthur Ashe Stadium rocked to the rafters as the 23-time Grand Slam pulled off a remarkable upset of World No 2 Anett Kontaveit, 7-6(4) 2-6 6-2.
I’m not in any rush here [to leave]. I’m loving this crowd, and there’s still a little left in me. We’ll see. I’m just Serena, you know? I’m a pretty good player. The last couple matches here in New York it’s really come together. I’m super competitive - honestly I’m just looking at it as a bonus. I have absolutely nothing to prove. Serena Williams
After a glittering 27-year professional career, Williams arrived at this year’s US Open preparing to bid farewell to tennis at the major tournament where it all began, saying she was going ‘to evolve away from the sport’.
She now boasts a 23-2 record in her last 25 matches against players ranked in the top two, a run that dates back to 2007.
“There’s still a little left in me,” said Williams with a smile afterwards. “This is what I do best. I love rising to a challenge.
“After I lost the second set, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, this could be it.’ I just wanted to keep trying and just do my best.
“Honestly, I’m just looking at this as a bonus. I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have anything to win. And I have absolutely nothing to lose.
“I never get to play like this since ’98. Literally, I’ve had an ‘X’ on my back since ’99, so it’s kind of fun.”
In front of 29, 959 fans, all cheering for Williams, Kontaveit got a taste of what Montenegrin Danka Kovinic had to deal with on Opening Night, but the 5-foot-9 Estonian stood tall, and made it a match in spite of the circumstances.
The adoring New York crowd, which featured a plethora of A-list celebrities, threw their full support behind Williams, erupting in a wild frenzy whenever she broke serve or put away a winner, but some spectators copped criticism for cheering after Kontaveit’s service faults, prompting the chair umpire to intervene in the first set.
Before the match even got underway, Kontaveit was forced to wait on the side of the court as a lengthy Williams tribute was played on the venue’s big screen.
“Once again, US Open organisers bringing Serena Williams’ opponent out onto the court before playing a montage. Very disrespectful,” tweeted tennis journalist Stuart Fraser from The Times. “It’s pretty simple. Play the montage, introduce Serena to a great reception, then the higher-ranked opponent last (as is normally the case at most tournaments). That way, no one left waiting courtside. Everyone’s happy. Done.”
With golfer Tiger Woods watching on from her Player Box, Williams struck first in the high-quality opening set, but she was unable to convert any of her first 5 break-point opportunities.
She made good on the 6th, though, with her opponent serving at 4-all and, although she failed to consolidate, the opener moved on to a tiebreak where the American’s serve proved the difference and she sealed the set with her 5th ace of the contest.
Undaunted, Kontaveit raced through the second in just 36 minutes to force a decider, matching Williams’ power from the baseline.
After an exchange of service breaks in the final set, an in-form Williams finally pushed ahead to 3-1 with a great roar from the crowd, which was all the cushion the American needed, breaking Kontaveit to love again to close out the match in 2 hours and 25 minutes, and finishing with 37 winners, 11 of them aces.
“I’m not in any rush here [to leave],” Williams proclaimed after the triumph. “I’m loving this crowd, and there’s still a little left in me. We’ll see.
When asked whether she was surprised at her level, Williams replied: “I’m just Serena, you know?
“I’m a pretty good player,” she added “The last couple matches here in New York it’s really come together.
“I’m super competitive – honestly I’m just looking at it as a bonus. I have absolutely nothing to prove.”
Kontaveit is the only player with more than 50 hard-court victories since the start of the 2021 campaign, while the 26-year-old holds 5 WTA titles on hard courts, all coming in the past 13 months, but the Estonian could not dig her way back into the first-time match-up with Williams.
Since beating Nicole Pratt in her US Open debut back in 1998, the American has compiled a further 107 victories in Flushing Meadows, her highest total at any one tournament.
Playing the 1,013th match of her storied career on Ashe, where she first prevailed as a beaded teenager in 1999, Williams is again looking like a title-contender.
After two wins the once-unthinkable dream of a Hollywood ending to Williams’ career, snatching an elusive 24th major to go level with Margaret Court at the top of the all-time list, just might be in the cards.
Asked if she was starting to believe she could win a 7th US Open, Williams demurred, insisting she was still taking it a match at a time, but said things were ‘coming together’.
“I cannot think that far,” said Williams. “I’m here, I’m having fun and I’m enjoying it. I’m playing pretty good.
“I feel I’ve been practicing really well, but it hasn’t been coming together in matches, but, you know, now it’s kind of coming together.”
This is Williams’ 81st Grand Slam appearance, second only to her sister Venus’ with 91 on the Open Era list, and she is still chasing .
The 40-year-old will face Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the 3rd-round, who outlasted Evgeniya Rodina in 3 sets, 1-6 6-2 7-5. They have never faced each other at the tour level.
Kontaveit, a US Open finalist in 2021, knew what to expect with the sold-out crowd throwing their full support behind Williams but admitted the environment was hard and unlike anything she had faced before.
She praised Williams, saying: “I thought I didn’t play a bad match at all,” she said. “She definitely raised her level in the third set. She played amazing.
“In the first set she was serving so well in these important moments. I fought really hard, thought I played a decent match. She was better today.
“It was her moment. I was trying to do my own thing. Of course, this is totally about her. I was very aware of that.”
The 26-year-old broke down in tears, though, when an Estonian reporter asked her a follow-up question about the match, leaving the room immediately after giving her response.
“I mean, it was hard … it was something I never experienced before,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a personal attack against me or anything. I mean, it’s fair.”
“I definitely had no shame losing to Serena,” she continued through tears. “It was very difficult with the crowd.”
Williams also remains alive in the doubles draw with her sister Venus Williams.
The wild-carded pair will make their first appearance together since the 2018 French Open when they face the Czech tandem of Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova on Thursday night when they will kick off the schedule on Ashe.
It marks the first time a 1st-round doubles match has featured at the marquee venue of the year’s final major.
On Louis Armstrong Stadium another upset was underway, with 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu took down Beatriz Haddad Maia, to earn a rematch with Caroline Garcia for a spot in the Round of 16.
Andreescu upset the 15th seed, 6-2 6-4 to close out Day 3.
Unseeded and ranked No 48, the 22-year-old Canadian put in a vintage performance, after having come off an up-and-down 3-set win over France’s Harmony Tan in the 1st-round.
Andreescu played a physical and disciplined match to defeat the surging Brazilian, who has been in fantastic form during the summer, winning back-to-back titles in Nottingham and Birmingham and making the biggest final of her career in Toronto.
She earned her first main-draw win at the US Open in the 1st-round with a dominating 6-0 6-0 win over Ana Konjuh.
Andreescu went unbroken in the match, saving all 5 break points she faced while breaking Haddad Maia 3 times, and she finished the match with a tidy 11 winners to 14 unforced errors, while the Brazilian hit 20 winners to 30 unforced errors.
“I know that she’s been doing really well so I knew I had to bring my A-game today,” Andreescu said. “If I didn’t, it could have gone differently.
“I was in a very positive mind frame and I fought until the end. I know the second set was a bit tighter but I hung in there and I’m really happy.”