It will obviously take a brave woman to stare down Serena Wiliams at Ashe Stadium, where 24,000 (minus the handful they have in their player box) will support the legend to keep her career alive just a few more days. It’s perhaps the most unique advantage in tennis history, a wall of noise that points in a direction found nowhere else.
Watching both of their games you can hear the desperation in the crowd beneath the rush, the actual fear that it might be the last time poking through the excitement. You can hear it on the show too (not to mention the ceremony after their first-round match, which was definitely planned to follow both outcomes and contained enough “This Is Your Life” that they definitely tended to , to be ready if Serena lost). ESPN’s commentators have leaned back and forth to either praise Serena or compare her to her younger self, which she definitely isn’t. She moves well…for 40. She’s been pushed around the court quite a bit by Anett Kontaveit and has been able to hang around thanks to an excellent sweeping defense that we’re just not used to seeing from Serena because she so rarely needed it. Fair play to her that she still had it in the bag and fended off Kontaveit who hit the ball really amazingly well and probably deserved more recognition from the New York crowd for her tennis (32 winners).
Perhaps that sense of desperation in the New York crowd is making up for lost time, as it wasn’t always the most hospitable place for Serena. It’s been a while since that was the case, but it happened as it took Flushing Meadows as long as the rest of tennis to fully welcome the Williams Sisters. It was a slow process. One must not forget the joy of a good part of the crowd famous fight against Jennifer Capriati which is almost single-handedly responsible for installing Hawk-Eye. Sure, when Serena threatened a linesman, that didn’t garner universal approval either (nor should it have) but there was also a crowd ready to pounce on her.
But everyone got there eventually, and now no one wants it to end. That includes Serena stretching and chasing some eggs that she probably won’t get to anywhere else on the planet and under any other circumstances. It was impressive to see Serena fending off a player like Kontaveit, who clearly shaped like Serena – tremendous forehand combined with plus mobility and ready to pounce on any opening for a winner. But this was the story of the last few years of William’s career, in which she went up against players who are a product of the game that changed her.
It may still take a while. The draw is open and Serena can only see the current all-conquering monster of the tour, Iga Świątek, in the final. The 2nd and 3rd seeds ate it. Most of the other top seeds are in the other half of the draw. Coco Gauff and Madison Keys are about to play each other, and they’re pretty much the only two players who might not face the full brunt of a barking Ashe Stadium (if only slightly). Except for Świątek, nobody on the tour carries a ton of momentum (even Kontaveit’s form at the US Open was shaky, but it says something about the current state of the tour that still earns you second place).
“It’s the circus. Everyone is trying not to go home” (name that movie!). Maybe New York missed out on some of the circus and regrets it. But they definitely don’t want to go home now and squeeze every drop out of the remaining time.
Can I steal something from my old friend Jesse Spector? Well I will:
It looks like Ohtani rose from hell to smack things and make thugs look stupid, which he very well may have done. And that’s probably how Angels fans will feel when he goes on sale this winter. A deal with Satan indeed.