The question almost resembled an insult to majesty. Serena Williams was asked whether she surprised herself with her level of play after her famous second round win at the US Open. “What?” the tennis icon replied, then let out a long laugh and finally said with the confidence of a 23-time Grand Slam tournament winner: “I’m just Serena.
And you always have to reckon with a Serena Williams – especially at her expected farewell tournament in New York. After the somewhat bumpy opening win against Danka Kovinic, the American appeared in a duel with second in the world rankings, Anett Kontaveit, almost as if she were in the best of times. In the end, the 40-year-old defeated the Estonian, who is coached by German coach Torben Beltz, 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-2 to thunderous applause at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Williams fought for at least one more Grand Slam singles game before the end of her career. In the third round she meets the Australian Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday – and by now everyone is clear: Williams’ start at the home tournament, where she won her first Grand Slam title in 1999 when she was 17, is not just a farewell show. She really wants to triumph here again.
“I’m a pretty good player,” said Williams, who was only too happy to refute the low expectations before the start of the tournament. “It’s what I do best. I like challenges.” In addition, she can play freely. “I have nothing to prove, nothing to lose,” emphasized the US tennis star: “I haven’t played like this since 1998.” At that time, the exceptional athlete started her glorious Grand Slam career, 24 years later she is supposed to end in New York – preferably late and with lots of fun.
At the hard court tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Williams competes in doubles with her sister Venus. Opponents on Friday night are Lucie Hradecka/Linda Noskova from the Czech Republic. The Williams sisters, who have won 14 Grand Slam tournaments in doubles together, are back together on the pitch for the first time since the 2018 French Open thanks to a wildcard. “I’m really looking forward to it,” said Serena Williams, “and I can really use the match practice.”
Williams announced her retirement as a competitive athlete three weeks ago. When exactly that will be, she wanted to keep it “vague”, she emphasized during the US Open, “you never know”.