Somehow she got stronger. And then stronger again. Faster and then faster again. Better and bolder and as big as the moment.
The longer it took, the more she seemed to believe, seemed to say, yes, retirement is coming, but not today, not tonight.
None of it made any sense.
Maybe that never worked for Serena Williams.
Through an intense, emotional, unlikely performance on Wednesday, Serena Williams defeated Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-2 to advance to the third round of what she believes to be the final of the US Open will be the competitive tournament of her legendary career.
It was a classic performance, a throwback to the days when she dominated the sport and became a global icon for both her strength on the pitch and her style off the pitch.
It sets her up for a possible run deep into this tournament that was once expected to be little more than a chance to get her flowers (and an Oprah-narrated tribute video) and give fans one last whirl.
Instead, well, here she is, here she comes.
She will be 41 at the end of September. Their daughter turns 5 on Thursday. This was only her sixth match of the entire year. Yes, she won in the opening round on Monday, but that was an inconsistent performance, nothing to suggest a long run would be possible here.
Now she faced Kontaveit, the runner-up in the tournament, the second-ranked player in the world, some 14 years her junior. Kontaveit wasn’t here for a curtain. She was here to win everything.
Maybe Serena is too.
“There’s a little bit left inside me,” Williams said. “We will see.”
She fought her way through a back-and-forth first set, complete with 20-point plays and multiple breaks to win in a tie-breaker. It felt fragile. It felt weak. Instead Williams got tough, surviving a tie breaker and sparking a grandstand celebration to rival any championship round.
However, Kontaveit roared back in a dominating manner, silencing the pro-serena crowd and leaving everyone wondering if that would end in a whimper. she was too good Too young. Even in their best years.
However, Serena did not enter this sport quietly. She first won here in 1999, aged 17, with pearls in her hair and the world at her feet. She didn’t look like it. She didn’t play the role. She just changed the part.
Well, 23 years and 23 big titles later, she’s going to be no different, still delivering red-hot aces and original celebration roars, all on her terms with no apologies.
Everything was there on Wednesday.
The fight. The wildness. The forehand.
On the third set, Serena dug deep and found a reserve of determination that perhaps no one else saw coming. Expecting to fade, she broke Kontaveit, took control of the set and eventually knocked away her younger, fresher opponent. It was epic like never before.
Does Serena have what it takes to win this? How about a Jimmy Connors-style run to the semifinals? It’s difficult to say. Next up on Friday night is unseeded Alja Tomljanovic, 29. Her side of the bracket is wide open now, with no seeded player between her and the quarterfinals. And Serena certainly looked better and moved more smoothly than on Monday.
However, endurance is still an issue. age too. And Serena will start Thursday’s doubles tournament with older sister Venus.
Still, everything else is there. The shooting. The Recreations. Getting up in the moment. To say she’ll have fans behind her is an understatement.
“I see it as a bonus, I don’t have to prove anything,” Serena said. “I have nothing to win. I have nothing to lose. I haven’t played like this since 1998. I enjoy it.”
This is Serena’s tournament she always dreamed of winning while learning the game in a public park on a street corner in Compton.
That was the impossible dream. If you’ve done that, then what is it? What is another run of magic?