‘A little left in me’: Serena advances at US Open

NEW YORK — Serena Williams‘ expected retirement was put on hold yet again after the 23-time major champion pulled off the 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2, upset over No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round of the US Open on Wednesday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s no rush here,” Williams said during her on-court interview after a match that ran two hours, 26 minutes. “I’m loving this crowd. Oh my goodness. It’s really fantastic. So there’s a little left in me.”

Williams, 40, first announced her plans to “evolve” from tennis in a first-person essay in Vogue earlier this month, citing her desire to grow her family. Since her initial reveal, she has received countless tributes and ovations and her matches have become must-see events.

An average of 2.7 million viewers tuned into ESPN for her match on Monday night — almost four times higher than the comparable timeslot earned in 2021 — and a record number of fans were on the grounds.

The Open, in fact, set another record for night-session attendance Wednesday with 29,959 fans entering the National Tennis Center. It was the second night-session attendance record set in three nights, breaking Monday’s 29,402 mark.

Williams’ career was celebrated by the tournament on Monday following the match with an on-court ceremony hosted by Gayle King and featuring a video narrated by Oprah Winfrey and a tribute from Billie Jean King.

On Wednesday, there was an equally star-studded affair with Tiger Woods, Dionne Warwick, Anna Wintour, Zendaya, Spike Lee, Gladys Knight, Seal and Anthony Anderson in attendance. Woods, whom Williams credited in her Vogue essay for encouraging her to return to the sport in the spring after nearly a year away, was seated in her player box, as was Wintour, the Vogue editor. While there was no formal ceremony after Wednesday’s match, Williams was given a similar reception from the nearly 24,000-person crowd. She was again introduced as she took the court as the “Greatest Of All Time” and the capacity crowd loudly cheered for her throughout, resulting in multiple reminders from the chair umpire for silence during play.

It was Williams’ first meeting with the 26-year-old Kontaveit, who has won five titles since August of 2021, but she appeared to be more than prepared for the hard-hitting battle and relentless rallies.

Williams took the hard-fought first set in a tiebreak, sealing the opener with an ace. But the 36-minute second set was all Kontaveit, who seemed to have adjusted to the rowdiness of the crowd, and she dominated on first serve and fired 15 winners in the set. But the crowd didn’t quit, and neither did Williams.

Having left the court between sets, Williams seemed to have found another gear in the decider. While she had shown signs of fatigue in the second set, she relied on her signature serve — she had 11 aces on the day — and powerful hitting.

It was Williams’ 367th victory at a Grand Slam, extending her record amongst women, and her 10rd win at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the most by any player on the court.

Williams will next face Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday in the third round, but first, she and sister Venus will open doubles play on Thursday night on Ashe against Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova. The duo has won 14 major titles together, including two at the US Open.

Venus, who has not publicly shared any impending retirement plans of her own, said it was Serena’s idea to play together one final time.

“She’s the boss, so (I) do whatever she tells me to do,” Venus said on Tuesday. “We have had some great wins (together). It would be nice to add some more.”

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