Serena Williams marches on at the US Open after beating world No. 2

“After I lost the second set I was like, ‘Oh my god, I have to do my best because this could be it,'” Williams told ESPN in an on-court interview after the game.

Williams has been looking better this year than in previous games where she was still trying to shake off the rust of a long layoff.

However, Williams faced a much tougher test at Kontaveit and was undoubtedly the underdog on paper but certainly not with the full house at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

A boisterous but restrained crowd cheered her on each point.

She referenced the lengthy layoff in her interview on Wednesday, but said: “I love a challenge.”

Next, Williams meets Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round. Tomljanovic, who played at the same time as Williams on Wednesday, defeated Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina 1-6, 6-2, 7-5.

And Williams doesn’t just play singles; She will open the doubles match with her sister Venus Williams on Thursday night.

“I need more matches,” she told ESPN. “I love taking on a challenge. Yes, I didn’t play many matches, but I trained really well. In my last matches it just didn’t fit. I guess that’s not me.”

Things have changed since she started playing the Open, she said.

She started Monday’s singles match with a 6-3 6-3 win over Danka Kovinić of Montenegro. It was Williams’ third match since she announced in Vogue magazine that she would “move away from tennis” after the US Open.

“I’ve never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I thought of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use this word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people,” Williams said in the Vogue article published earlier this month.

“Perhaps evolution is the best word to describe what I intend to do. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis and towards other things that are important to me,” she said.

At her post-game press conference on Monday, Williams was asked if this was definitely her last tournament.

“Yeah, I was pretty vague there, wasn’t I?” she said with a smile. “I’ll be vague because you never know.”

The opening-round win over Kovinić was the best Williams had seen since her comeback from injury. She’s managed to win just one match since returning to the circuit in June and hasn’t been able to match the form that helped her win her last Grand Slam title in 2017.

But Kontaveit, who had said she was looking forward to playing Williams, encountered a player who showed no signs of wanting to hasten her retirement.

“I think she played really well,” said the Estonian during the post-match press conference. “I mean, I didn’t think I played a bad match at all.”

After the players split the first two sets, Williams stepped up their game for the decider, Kontaveit said.

“She really turned it on from there,” she said. “There are a few points here and there where I feel like maybe I could have done better on my serve. I mean, she better hit back. She played the rallies better. I felt like she did everything a little bit better in the third set.”

The passionate pro-Williams crowd is also a challenge, Kontveit added.

“I mean, I don’t think they cheered against me. They just wanted Serena to win so badly,” said the Estonian. “Well, I mean, I don’t think it’s a personal attack on me or anything. I mean it’s fair. I mean, she deserved that, yes.”

Williams burst onto the scene when she won her first US Open in 1999

One of the greatest tennis players of all time, Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and won the US Open six times, most recently in 2014. Williams’ career, now 40 years old, concludes as her last match – in which ​​also The round that emerges is set to be played at the site of her first Grand Slam singles win, the 1999 US Open.

Then, just a teenager, Williams stormed onto the stage to stun world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the final, laying the first step on her path to two decades of dominance.

After Kontaveit won her first tour-level title in 2017, her real breakthrough year came in 2021, when she won four WTA tournaments to climb the rankings.

An aggressive player with a varied game and a powerful forehand, Kontaveit broke into the world top 10 for the first time in November 2021 and has been a mainstay ever since.

Ranked 2nd in her career – the highest ranking in history for an Estonian – at the age of 26 she was looking to improve on her best performance in a Grand Slam, a quarter-final appearance at the 2020 Australian Open.

Kontaveit looked impressive in her US Open win in the opening round against Jaqueline Cristian of Romania, losing just three games and saying after her win that she was “cheering” for Williams in their first-round match.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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