Don’t call it a comeback (or a retirement). With a riveting 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 victory over second-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, Serena Williams gave the sold-out crowd of 29,959 superfans at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens something to lose their minds about: The upset means she moves on to the third round of what she’s indicated would be her final U.S. Open. (Those fans included Serena’s mother, Oracene; sister Venus; husband Alexis Ohanian with their daughter Olympia; Zendaya; Tiger Woods; Spike Lee; Billie Jean King; Gladys Knight; Dionne Warwick; Lindsey Vonn; Seal; and New York state governor Kathy Hochul.)
Playing lights-out tennis from the get-go, Serena saved the only break point she faced in the first set before taking it in a tiebreak, 7-6, on a blistering ace. Kontaveit seemed to find her game in the second, and for a moment the momentum turned entirely. But behind her booming serve and bombastic ground strokes, Serena owned the final set—not just the court but seemingly the entire stadium: On a crucial point early in that third set, when an excruciatingly close call went Kontaveit’s way and the crowd began booing, Serena wagged a finger at the crowd, as if to say No, no—not now, and the crowd was silenced.
A few games later, the match was hers, and with a handshake at the net, her trademark victory twirl, and a subdued wave to the crowd, her mind seemed far more focused on the future than on her illustrious past. When asked on court how she did it, Serena replied, in a manner both coy and cocky: “Well…I’m a pretty good player.”
And when asked if she was surprising herself with how well she was playing, Serena paused, smiled, and then said: “I mean…I’m just Serena.”
Next up: unseeded 29-year-old Croatian-Australian pro Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday (and doubles with her sister Venus Thursday). With her biggest early obstacle now out of the way, the draw favors her for a while. This could be a deep run. It’s already history.