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Just like that, Serena Williams takes flight from sentimental retiree to U.S. Open title contender

Serena Williams of USA celebrates victory in US Open Championships 2nd round match against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 31, 2022. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

By Ricky Dimon

The Serena Williams 2022 U.S. Open narrative changed in a New York minute on Wednesday night.

What is presumably the last tournament of her illustrious career began with the aura of a ceremonial goodbye. Just three days later, the headlines are adorned with a prospect as sparkling as her dress: a 24th Grand Slam title.

It’s a very real prospect, too. Sure, Williams will have to beat opponents superior to Anett Kontaveit (even though Kontaveit is the No. 2-ranked player in the world) if the dream is to become a reality, but based on the level of tennis she displayed in round two there is no reason why it can’t be done. The 40-year-old unquestionably would have had at least a decent chance to beat anyone in the field on Wednesday, when she treated a raucous Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd to a 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2 victory over Kontaveit.

“I cannot think that far,” Williams said when asked following her second-round win if she can win the tournament. “I’m having fun and I’m enjoying it. Honestly, I’ve had so many tough matches the last…I don’t know how long…that I just feel prepared for everyone that I play [being] really, really difficult.”

Well, let’s think that far for her. Williams has Ajla Tomljanovic next–another seeded opponent but also someone who isn’t exactly a legitimate Grand Slam title contender (she has never reached the semifinals of a major). After that it would be one of two unseeded opponents, either Liudmila Samsonova or Aliaksandra Krunic. Simona Halep is already out of the bottom half of the draw and Williams would not have to face top seed Iga Swiatek until the final.

Ajla Tomljanovic will face Serena Williams for the first time on Friday night. (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, you can count Kontaveit among those who think Williams has a legitimate chance.

“I think she played really well,” the Estonian assessed. “I mean, I thought I didn’t play a bad match at all…. She played amazing…. I know there [are] also a lot of very strong girls there in the draw, but I think if she plays really good tennis, I think she always has a chance to win.”

Williams would never disagree, but she also won’t put a number on her chances.

“It’s that weird mixture of embracing (the farewell) but also staying focused,” Williams explained. “So I’m just really trying to figure out which percentage I want of each.”

It’s hard to say exactly what the percent chance of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title is. But one thing’s for sure: it’s suddenly a lot more than zero.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.