How far can Serena Williams go at the US Open?

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When Serena Williams, 40, beat second seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round of the US Open last night, the collective thought began to creep in: can she really do this?

In her post-match on-court interview, Williams was asked if she was surprised at her level of play.

She smiles – as if she were going already be surprised to win a tennis match. « I’m just Serena, » she said. Read more about his victory here.

Williams announced earlier this month that she would be « getting away from tennis » and that this US Open would be her last as she focuses on growing her family and her businesses.

Clearly, there’s at least one person who believes they can complete the storybook ending. Here’s why she might not be wrong:

The crowd is on his side. Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, NY is the largest tennis stadium in the world. Its listed capacity is 23,771, but the reported attendance for last night’s Williams-Kontaveit showdown was 29,959 – a record for a US Open night session. And at least on TV, it looked like the overwhelming majority of them were strongly behind Williams. Celebrities came in droves to watch Williams’ swan song (Mike Tyson and Martina Navratilova sitting together is like the MadLibs athlete), but only Tiger Woods earned a spot in Williams’ box, with both fists aiming at each other throughout the match. Woods’ victory at the 2019 Masters, although he didn’t retire afterwards, might be the closest recent comparable if Williams pulls it off. Serena’s strong support can also get into the heads of her opponents. « It’s totally about her and I was very aware of that, » Kontaveit said.

WATCH | Williams surprises number 2 Kontaveit at the US Open:

Serena Williams postpones retirement with upset win over No. 2 seed Kontaveit

Playing in the final tournament of her storied career, Serena Williams turned back the clock by beating number two seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2 to advance to the third round of the US Open.

History can be made. Amid the men’s career Grand Slam run and Williams’ absence through injury, the women’s brand has been somewhat forgotten. Here’s your reminder: Williams’ 23 majors are just one shy of Margaret Court’s record. Because half of Court’s titles came before the Open Era, when the majors first welcomed professional players, many consider Williams the greatest of all time. Still, tying Court’s record would unquestionably tip the scales in Williams’ favor.

Still, Williams isn’t feeling the pressure. Make no mistake, his win over Kontaveit came as a surprise. In four games since returning from injury at Wimbledon, Williams has won only once – in Toronto against No. 62 ranked Nurriza Parrizas Diaz. Reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu, who exited in the first round of this year’s tournament, beat Williams in a straight-sets win in her final match before heading to Flushing Meadows. And so Williams called everything that’s happening now a « bonus, » and she’s able to play freely as such. She said it was the first time she had felt that feeling since before winning her first US Open aged 17 in 1999.

Williams looks close to top form. She’s had major success more recently than you might think, reaching the semifinals of the 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open. equaled Court’s record, but lost them all painfully. Still, Williams’ performance last night was more impressive than anyone could have reasonably expected since his return. She had her big hallmark first serve up to 119 MPH when needed, but she also dictated play in rallies with powerful groundstrokes. And if she can do all of that against the second seed, the possibilities seem endless.

The draw is not discouraging. Williams returns to singles Friday night, where she will face No. 46-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic. If she wins again, her fourth-round opponent is guaranteed to be an unrated player. Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who beat her in the 2019 US Open final, could wait for Williams in the quarters. But before all that, Williams will play the first round in doubles alongside her sister Venus tonight, back at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Meanwhile, Wednesday brought mixed results for the Canadians at the US Open. On the bright side, Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino qualified for her first Grand Slam third round since 2011 and Andreescu passed National Bank Open finalist Beatriz Haddad Maia. But Felix Auger-Aliassime came out quietly in straight sets against England’s Jack Draper, while 2021 runner-up Leylah Fernandez failed to find that magic again when she was knocked out by unseeded Ludmilla Samsonova. Denis Shapovalov will be aiming to make three Canadians in the third round when he faces 80th-ranked Spaniard Roberto Carballés Baena tonight.

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