‘I’m just Serena’: Williams’ US Open performances give hope of unlikely Grand Slam triumph ahead of third-round match

“I’m just Serena,” she said matter-of-factly, a quote that will undoubtedly stand as one of the most memorable in esports.

This ability to shift gears and dig deeper in the most difficult moments formed the basis of Williams’ continued success over more than 20 years on the tour.

Given her form at the US Open – just one win since returning to the circuit in June after a year of injury – it was fair to assume that Williams’ opening round match against Danka Kovinic would be little more than an emotional farewell to tennis for the 23-timer Grand Slam Champion.

But as “just Serena,” Williams produced by far her best tennis of the season to finally finish off Kovinic and extend her last dance in New York by at least a few more days.

Then came Kontaveit, world No. 2 and one of the toughest players on the tour. The Estonian would provide a much tougher test as Kovinic and Williams undoubtedly entered their match as considerable underdogs.

Serena Williams upped her game during the US Open.

After two glorious decades at the helm, surely this would be where Williams’ career would end? Of course not. She’s “just Serena,” after all.

In her three-set win over Kontaveit, Williams raised her tennis level to a place many thought she might not be able to match. The accuracy and power of her dreaded serve seems to have returned, as does her speed on the court.

Now ahead of her third-round match against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, ideas about what Williams could achieve have certainly changed. For the first time at this year’s US Open, she will go into a match as a favorite and with the expectation that she should win.

Not that that’s anything new for one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Currently world No. 46, Tomljanovic achieved a career-best 38 this season and had some notable successes in 2022, including quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the recent Cincinnati Open.

Serena and Venus Williams eliminated in the Czech duo's doubles' match at the US Open

The spectators are likely to be a decisive factor again on Friday, as they were in the second round when an overwhelmed Kontaveit struggled in a rough atmosphere.

“It was tough,” Kontaveit told reporters after her defeat. “It was something I had never experienced before. I don’t think it’s a personal attack on me or anything. I mean it’s fair.

“It was so difficult to deal with the crowd and everything,” she added, breaking down in tears. “I think that was the most difficult part of the game.”

How Tomljanovic handles the atmosphere will be just as important as how she handles having the 23-time Grand Slam champion staring at her from across the court.

During her run at the US Open, Williams was joined by some of the sport’s biggest names, most notably a pumped-up Tiger Woods, who was present for her second-round win at Arthur Ashe.

Former men’s world No. 1 Roger Federer, winner of 20 Grand Slam titles, was the last to offer some words of encouragement to Williams.

“For now, enjoy this moment,” he said. “Enjoy the US Open. Enjoy her with all that comes over the next few weeks, even though I know it might be hard for you.

“But I’m thinking of you and you have all my respect. And I wish you all the best for your future.”

Whether or not Williams’ run ends on Friday, her electrifying performances at the US Open put a fitting end to an illustrious career.

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