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Serena Williams Tops World No. 1 Anett Kontaveit in Vintage US Open Performance

Serena Williams of the United States celebrates after defeating Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in their Women’s Singles Second Round match on Day Three of the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2022 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

NEW YORK—Comeback queen Serena Williams inspired spirited surround sound inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

This US Open celebration of Serena soared to a crescendo tonight.

Turning back time, Williams went warrior mode defeating world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2 to charge into the US Open third round.

“It’s no rush here,” Williams told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez afterward. “I’m loving this crowd. Oh my goodness, it’s really fantastic. There’s still a little left in me. We’ll see. I’m a pretty good player.

This is what I do best. I love a challenge. I love rising to the challenge.”

In her best performance of the season, Williams hit 37 winners, including 11 aces, improving her US Open record to 108-14.

A revitalized Williams amped up the pace of her drives and amplified roaring crowd support in a vintage performance that powered her into a third-round clash vs. Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in what figures to be a festive Friday night clash. 

In a Vogue magazine essay published earlier this month, Williams suggested this US Open will be her tennis farewell as she continues her evolution away from the sport she’s dominated. Williams has pressed paused on her evolution with an electric performance that invoked insane energy reminiscent of a major final.

While Williams departed the Toronto court in tears following her loss to Belinda Bencic and looked disconsolate in a quick exit after bowing to Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati, she competed with fierce desire and a sense of fun at times tonight. It’s as if Williams put pressure of finality aside tonight and was intent on enjoying this experience.

“I’ve been practicing pretty well, but my last few matches it wasn’t coming together,” Williams said. “The last couple of matches here in New York it’s coming together. Maybe I should have travelled with all or you all these years.

“Honestly, after I lost the second set I thought oh my goodness I gotta give my best effort because this could be it. I just wanted to do my best. Literally, I’ve had an X on my back since ’99 and it’s kind of fun to just be out enjoying it and it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do it.”

If the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium had been closed, fans would have blown the lid off the place screaming support for the 40-year-old superstar. A US Open night-session record of 29,402 broke the opening-night record set for Williams’ first-round win over Danka Kovinic.

Contesting her 30th major, Kontaveit has one Slam quarterfinal to her credit—at the 2020 Australian Open—but came out serving with command, closing a love hold to open the match.

Before a wildly supportive Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that included  Billie Jean King, Venus Williams, Gladys Knight, Spike Lee, Tiger Woods, Lindsey Vonn and Dionne Warwick, Williams whipped a return right down the middle jamming Kontaveit for two break points in the third game. Kontaveit calmly erased both, including throwing down a 105 mph ace that helped her hold. Williams saved a break point and smacked a series of stinging serves holding to level after four games.

Moving with vigor and hitting with venom, Williams was reaching balls that eluded her earlier this month in her Cincinnati loss to Emma Raducanu and attacking her shots.

A couple of Kontaveit misses gave Williams a sixth break. This time, Williams got the break she wanted—and a 5-4 lead—when Kontaveit sailed a shot long.

Serving for the set, Williams; backhand went awry and Kontaveit exploited it, scraping out three backhand errors to break back and level after 10 games. Williams flashed a forehand down the line to force the first-set tiebreaker.

Deadlock at 3-3, Williams elevated in an electric close. Kontaveit pushed a drop shot into the net as Williams snatched the mini break and a 5-3 lead. Blasting a big serve down the T gave Williams two set points.

Still, Kontaveit kept coming and broke back in the third game of the decider. Blowing a 40-love lead did not faze Williams, who fired a forehand drive volley that kissed off the tape for break point and broke on an error for 3-1. This time, Williams threw down her second love hold to confirm the break for 4-1 as the faithful honored Williams with a standing ovation.

The six-time champion staved off a break point in the seventh game. Pushed well behind the baseline, Williams threw up a moon ball to buy time, moved in and walloped a drive volley winner earning a hard-fought hold for 5-2.

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Another drive volley down the line brought Williams triple match point. The 23-time Grand Slam champion crushed a backhand return down the line eliciting a sustained roar before a triumphant twirl to fans.