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Serena Williams lets go in win over world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit at US Open to keep “evolution” at bay
For two sets, Anett Kontaveit did well to shut out the noise and block out the magnitude of the occasion. But soon, neither Serena nor the passionate fans on Ashe could be contained.
Published Sep 01, 2022
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NEW YORK—Evolution is a slow process. Just ask 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who announced her own impending “evolution” away from professional tennis—don’t call it a retirement—before the US Open began.
Playing each match like it could very well be her last, the six-time champion has defied oddsmakers and pundits alike with each victory in Flushing Meadows—and on Wednesday evening, she made her biggest statement yet.
Over the course of two hours and 29 minutes, Serena, currently ranked No. 605, weathered a mid-match wobble to topple world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2—recording her 108th match win at the US Open.
"This is what I do best," Serena told Mary Joe Fernandez during her post-match interview. "I love a challenge. I love rising to the challenge. Yeah, I haven't played many matches, but I've been practicing really well. In my last few matches, it just wasn't coming together. I'm like, 'This isn't me.'
"The last couple matches here in New York, it's really come together."
With the likes Tiger Woods and Anna Wintour watching on from Serena’s box, and a veritable constellation of celebrities dotting the stands on Ashe, 26-year-old Kontaveit did well to shut out the noise and block out the magnitude of the occasion. But the Estonian had her hands full holding back a dialed-in Serena—and the full force of the crowd—in their first meeting.
For the first two sets the balancing act worked, with Kontaveit’s winners met by either total silence or polite applause. Her forehands were firing, with 18 of her 32 winners coming off that wing, and homing in on Serena’s second serves, allowing her opponent only 23% (3/13) and 30% (3/10) of those points in the first and second sets, respectively.
When Serena sealed the tightly contested opening set tiebreak with an ace—one of 11 in she struck in the match—the crowd leapt to their feet in a standing ovation. But while they were still coming down from that emotional high, Kontaveit stayed laser focused.
The air seemed to leave the stadium as she won five of the first six games of the second set. But despite her dominance, the cracks were already starting to show: she fired two double faults and was subsequently broken by Serena in a wobbly fourth game, leading 3-1. Kontaveit went on to win the set 6-2, but Serena had wedged the door open.
"After I lost the second set, I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, I got to give my best effort because this could be it,'" Serena said. "Really I just wanted to just keep trying, see what I could do, just do my best."
By the third set, umpire Allison Hughes was having to ask the crowd to settle down after nearly every point. But Serena and Kontaveit were hitting the ball so powerfully they couldn’t help cry out anyways. And soon, neither Serena nor the Ashe faithful could be contained.
The 40-year-old blasted a backhand winner, her 38th winner of the match, to seal the victory in three sets—and ensure the beginning of her "evolution" would have to wait at least one more day.
"Are you surprising yourself with your level at the moment?" Fernandez asked the 23-time Grand Slam champion afterwards.
"Well..." Serena paused, and then grinned. "I'm just Serena, you know?"