Serena Williams of old delights on ravenous second night at the US Open | Serena Williams

TDuring an exciting and exciting first set in what would have been the last singles match of her career, Serena Williams Staring at World No. 2, Annette Kontaveit, she responded to her challenge with an impressive performance on Wednesday.

In the second set, she was barely holding on. When she saved a 1-3 break point with a sweet ace, she raised her hands to the sky, angry that she couldn’t find that shot every time she served.

If this was any other 40-year-old girl, with one-year lay-off rust and nerves of her recent event, such deficiencies would be expected. But this is Serena Williams. Not only did she adhere to stratospheric standards, but she did so fully during the raving second night of her stay at Arthur Ashe Stadium. By defeating Kontaveit 7-6 (7-4) 2-6, 6-2, she postponed her singles retirement for at least one more round by producing another legendary moment in a career full of them.

after festival Her victory in the opening round, with its in-court celebration and Billie Jean King speech, the second round felt different. The crowd was much more silent, not just there to say goodbye, Williams focused on the laser. She was instantly locked up during an intense first set, one filled with high-quality shots from both but dominated by Williams’ serve – still the best at it. Under stifling pressure, I closed the tiebreak as I’ve done many times over the years, with a non-rebound serve followed by an ace.

To her credit, Kontaveit played an impeccable second set, knocking winners off both flanks and kissing streaks, but Williams responded simply by raising her level and managing the match very well. By the final matches, she had completely taken control of the baseline and eliminated Kontaveit’s serve.

It’s a remarkable achievement given its limitations. Her first send was amazing, but she averaged just 99 mph in the first set — she hadn’t served much under pressure last year, so she was initially very cautious, prioritizing accuracy and percentage over power.

Her movement, which has historically been one of her greatest assets, has waned noticeably, but she still found a way out of a 19-stroke run in depth in the third set when she needed it most. Despite her lack of match physique, she was a rock in the defining moments.

Over the course of two hours and 27 minutes, she played all the hits at least one more time: aces and fierce winners she held for important points, roars and pains alike, and her heart studded with diamond sleeves. Halfway through the third set, Williams got frustrated by the electronic communication across the line and told referee Allison Hughes. Then she returned to baseline and directed the anger into playing tennis.

Serena Williams raises her racket and arm to the crowd as she stands on the court after her victory
Serena Williams celebrates her victory. Photo: Jason Szenes/EPA

It was especially amazing considering how far from this look she has looked since her comeback. Williams lost in the first round of Wimbledon, and was Easily brushed aside by Belinda Bencic in Toronto then It was broken up 6-4, 6-0 by Emma Raducano in Cincinnati.

She described the last weeks of her career as very difficult. Williams arrived here with low confidence but with one last chance to make any impression in the final phase of her career and there are no longer any chances of redemption. The pressure could have been stifling, but she, as she did so many times, rose to the occasion.

Her success stemmed from seeing this tournament as a reward rather than a burden it could have been. “I’ve had a big red X on my back since I won the US Open in ’99,” she said. “She’s been there all my career, because I won my first major early in my career. But it’s different here. I feel like I’ve already won.”

She finished the match with a booming backhand, tore Kontaveit in the final and sealed her victory with a winning backhand.

Former player Mary Jo Fernandez gave the interview on court and her presence alone was a reminder of Williams’ ridiculous longevity. Fernandez is 51 and has been retired for 22, but she and Williams were rivals in 1999. I asked Williams if she was surprised by her level on the court, to a giggle and intense stare. “I’m just Serena,” she said.

On Thursday night, Williams was scheduled to return to the same venue, at the same time, alongside her sister Venus, to compete together in doubles for the last time, a spectacle that can be even more emotional and attractive than singles.

Then she will face Australian Aja Tomljanovic on Friday. It could be the night you finally say goodbye or the next step in one last legendary run. Regardless, Wednesday night, I gave the world at least one final show of the unforgettable scene of Serena Williams in full flow.

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