Serena Williams roared into the third round of the US Open on Wednesday, overpowering second seed Anett Kontaveit with a battling performance to extend her Grand Slam singles career in dramatic fashion.
The 40-year-old tennis icon – who has signalled she plans to retire after the tournament – drew on all her reserves of resilience and sheer fighting spirit to take down Kontaveit with a 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-2 at an electric Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Kontaveit appeared to have gained the upper hand over the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion after levelling the match at 1-1 with a dominant second set display.
But Williams showed her champion’s mentality to yank back momentum in the decider, breaking Kontaveit twice before closing out victory to leave a sell-out crowd featuring the likes of golf superstar Tiger Woods on its feet.
“You know this is what I do best,” a delighted Williams said after her win.
“I love a challenge and love rising to the challenge. I haven’t played many matches but I’ve been practicing really well and my last few matches it just wasn’t coming together…But the last couple of matches here in New York it’s really come together.
Williams admitted she had feared the worst after she was unable to respond as Kontaveit upped her game to take the second set.
“I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve got to give my best effort because this could be it,” Williams said. “I just wanted to keep trying and see what I could do and do my best.”
Williams, who won the first of her Grand Slam singles titles as a 17-year-old at the US Open in 1999, said she was now playing with no pressure with the finish line of her remarkable career in sight.
“I don’t have anything to prove, I don’t have anything to win. I have absolutely nothing to lose,” she said.
Williams will return to Arthur Ashe on Thursday to take part in the women’s doubles, where she will reunite with elder sister Venus for the first time since 2018.
Kontaveit meanwhile admitted she had been rattled by a ferociously partisan New York crowd.
“I expected it but it was really hard,” Kontaveit said. “I knew it was coming. It was something I’d never experienced before.
Wang, ranked 75th in the world, has happy memories of New York, having won the junior US Open title at the venue in 2018.
Elsewhere, Tunisia’s beaten Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur sailed into the last 32 with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Elizabeth Mandlik of the United States.
The USA’s 12th-seeded Coco Gauff, meanwhile, advanced to the third round with a 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) win over unseeded Romanian Elena Gabriela Ruse.
That win sets up an all-American showdown between Gauff and 20th seed Madison Keys, who needed three sets to edge past Italy’s Camila Giorgi, winning 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (10/6).