After almost two and a half hours, it was the 26-year-old ranked number two in the world who crumbled first, unable to hold up under the barrage of vintage Serena Williams groundstrokes.
Make no mistake, Anett Kontaveit didn’t lose this match, Serena Williams won it. The 40-year-old tennis legend had 11 aces, and knocked in 64% of her first serves en route to winning 73% of points on her first serve. She showcased the powerful groundstrokes we’ve all come to know and revere, notching 38 winners on the evening.
But the 2nd-ranked Kontaveit matched her for much of the evening. After Serena Williams won the first-set tiebreaker 7-6 (7-4), the Estonian could have unraveled under the raucous crowd and the intense pressure of the moment. Instead, she absolutely dominated the second set, winning it 6-2.
In truth, Serena didn’t stand much of a chance in the second set. Kontaveit had her on the ropes before anybody in the stands could blink. Perhaps Serena had given everything she had in the first set. Maybe there was nothing left to give in her stories career.
But just when it seemed like the end might be in sight, Williams came roaring back with a run of her own. Instead of showing signs of fatigue after her long layoff, Serena seemed to hit second gear. At the end of the day, she covered 7,943 feet on the court, more than her opponent, and still had the legs to carry it home in the end.
“You know, honestly after I lost the second set, I thought, Oh, my goodness, I got to give my best effort because this could be it,” Serena admitted after the match. “Really I just wanted to just keep trying, see what I could do. Just do my best.”
She certainly did her best. She broke Kontaveit early, taking a quick 4-1 lead and assuming control of the match. The crowd went ballistic, and Serena rode their energy to a 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-2 victory to advance to the third round of the US Open.
With Serena taking out the number two seed, she essentially inherits the draw of the second-seeded player, which means the draw opens up for her to potentially make a deep run. Although, she’s in no rush to go back to being a heavy favorite. Playing the underdog has seemed to suit her just fine.
“Honestly, I’m just looking at [this tournament] as a bonus,” she said. “I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have anything to win. I have absolutely nothing to lose. Honestly, I never get to play like this since ’98 really. Literally, I’ve had an X on my back since ’99. It’s kind of fun. I really enjoy just coming out and enjoying it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that.”
Next, she’ll face 46th-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia. Tomljanovic is a two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist and is 29-20 on the year. However, she has never had a challenge quite like facing Serena Williams in front of the crowd at Flushing Meadows.
“I’m loving this crowd,” said Serena after the match. “Oh, my goodness, it’s really fantastic. There’s still a little left in me. We’ll see, we’ll see.”