Somehow, I got stronger. Then stronger again. Faster then faster again. Better, bolder and as big as the moment.
The longer she went, the more she seemed to think she was saying, yes, retirement is coming, but not today, not tonight.
None of that makes any sense.
Perhaps none of it happened with Serena Williams.
Through a strong, emotional and improbable performance Wednesday, Serena Williams defeated Annette Kontaveit 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-2 to advance to the third round of the US Open, which she said would be the final. A competitive championship of her legendary career.
It was an old-fashioned effort, a throwback to the days when they dominated the sport and have grown into a global icon of their strength on the court and their style off the court.
It’s setting her up for a potential run deep into this tournament, which was once expected to be more than an opportunity to get her flowers (and an honor video narrated by Oprah) and give fans one last turn.
Instead, well, here she is, here she comes.
She turns 41 in late September. Her daughter turns five on Thursday. This was only her sixth match of the year. Yes, she did win the opening round on Monday, but that was an uneven performance, nothing foreshadowing that some long distances were possible here.
Now she was facing the world’s second-ranked Kontaveit, the world’s second-ranked player, about 14 years her junior. Kontaveit wasn’t here for a curtain call. She was here to win it all.
And so now, maybe Serena.
“There’s still a little bit of me inside,” Williams said. “we will see.”
You fought through the first set back and forth, complete with 20 points and multiple breaks to win the tiebreak. I felt fragile. I felt weak. Instead, Williams turned ruthless, outflanking the tiebreaker and unleashing a grandstand celebration that rivals any Tour Championship tour.
Kontaveit is back in second place with fashion domination, silencing the pro-Serena crowd and leaving everyone wondering if this will end in ecstasy. It was very good. Too young. Also in the prime of her life.
Serena hasn’t quietly entered the sport, though. She first won here in 1999, when she was 17, with beads in her hair and the world at her feet. Didn’t look the part. She did not play the role. She just changed the part.
Well, after 23 years and 23 major titles, she wouldn’t come out differently, still delivering aces and a primal ceremonial roar and everything on her unexcused terms.
It was all there on Wednesday.
Fighting. ferocity. Forehand strikes.
The third set Serena dug deep, finding a reserve of grit that no one might have expected. Expecting to fade, Kontaveit broke, taking control of the group and eventually banishing her younger, fresher opponent. It was an epic show as ever.
Does Serena have what it takes to win this? How about Jimmy Connors’ race to the semi-finals? hard to say. Followed by seed Alga Tomljanovic, 29, on Friday evening. Her side of the arc is wide open now, with no player ranked between her and the quarter-finals. Serena definitely looked better and moved more smoothly than she did on Monday.
However, stamina is still a question. age too. Serena will start the doubles championship Thursday with her older sister Venus.
Still, everything else is there. Make the shot. recovery operations. Climb to the moment. To say she’ll have the fans behind her is an understatement.
“I look at it as a bonus, I don’t have anything to prove,” Serena said. “I have nothing to win. I have nothing to lose. I haven’t played this way since 1998. I am enjoying it.”
This is the tournament Serena, who has always dreamed of winning while learning the game in a public park on the corner of Compton Street.
This was an impossible dream. When you managed it, what is that then? What is the magic run back?