Serena Williams staves off retirement with a throwback performance at U.S. Open second round


NEW YORK—On the night time she received Spherical 1, Serena Williams felt the vibrations from an adoring crowd — their yowling of affection — in her chest.

On the night time she received Spherical 2, the reverberations of worship will need to have reached deep into the ventricles of her coronary heart.

“Queen Mama”, as written in gold on her sneakers —salvo in direction of a daughter who turns 5 on Thursday — is the compound id that defines the best tennis participant of her period, eras, male or feminine.

Roger Federer: 20 Grand Slam titles; Novak Djokovic: 21 Grand Slam titles; Rafael Nadal: 22 Grand Slam titles.

Serena: 23.

And if it ends later this week or subsequent, that’s not even the half of it — the why of her enthralling essence, which transcends tennis, simply as she has transcended sports activities.

Williams has received U.S. Open matches in her teenagers, her 20s, her 30s, her 40s.

Who would dare guess in opposition to a record-equalling twenty fourth championship at this second? A seventh title right here in Queens?

That she prevailed Wednesday night time 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-2 within the second spherical at Flushing Meadows in opposition to the World No. 2 — how Serena basic is that? Digging out the victory on will-times-talent, as she has so many instances earlier than. Even when she’d misplaced, who would keep in mind, years from now, that the victor who ushered her out of majors tennis was an Estonian by the identify of Anett Kontaveit.

I may provide the stats line, the match evaluation. However it hardly issues, besides indisputably to Williams, as a result of she’s now and at all times and endlessly about successful. To have slipped into retirement on a loss would have stung immeasurably. However this 40-year-old — a month shy of 41 – unspooled a ferocious first set on the energy of her signature potent serve and dead-eye shot-making, with Mercury wings on her ft. In sneakers tied with actual gold laces, and that sparkle in her costume, in her headband — these have been real diamond brilliants.

With a quicksilver tennis mind.

“I feel you possibly can solely have this expertise as soon as in a lifetime,” Williams mentioned at her post-match press convention. Besides that’s clearly not true. She had the magnificent fan embrace Monday, Wednesday and can likely have it once more on Friday and nonetheless lengthy after that.

That is, certainly, The Lengthy Goodbye.

Williams, throaty grunts on each exertion shot — she taught a technology of feminine gamers to roar. Kontaveit together with her delicate little yips in response, although she too performed a hell of a top quality match, muscling by Williams within the second set, forcing a decider third.

Everybody watching thought: My goodness, she will be able to actually do that, she will be able to get previous the World No. 2 who seemed like a wide-eyed bunny within the headlights in that opening set — a World No. 2, by the best way, who’s by no means superior additional than the quarter-final of a Slam, who was all of three when Williams claimed her first majors title, proper right here at Flushing Meadows, simply 17 years previous.

It was wall-to-wall Serena within the first body, Kontaveit surging with nerviness within the second body, savoring her double-break edge, and Serena simply being Serena within the third, as husband Alexis Ohanian went wild in her field. No little mini-me daughter Olympia current for this match, regrettably.

Between the second and third units, Williams left the court docket. It was an completely laser-focused Williams who returned. To reporters afterwards, she defined it in 4 phrases: “I simply obtained lighter.” Then added, with a peal of laughter: “It wasn’t Quantity Two.”

One actually should surprise if Williams desires to take it again within the midst of this Slam, her announcement through Vogue journal essay on Aug. 19, in the course of the Nationwide Financial institution Open in Toronto, that she meant to “evolve”out of tennis, transfer ahead with the remainder of her life, the first goal to broaden her household, have one other child, as a result of Olympia has been demanding a little bit sister – adamantly not a little bit brother.

Whereas coyly refusing to present a particular time and date for hanging up her spurs, Williams did, after her win over Danka Kovinic on Monday, make slight noises about having a re-think. “I completely love being on the market,’’ she’d informed reporters. “The extra tournaments I play, I really feel just like the extra I can belong on the market. That’s a troublesome feeling to have, and to go away understanding the extra you do it, the extra you possibly can shine.’’

Possibly she was simply shining us on.

However the Williams of Wednesday was not the Williams of the previous few weeks, truly stretching again to her first-round elimination in Wimbledon — loser in three of 4 matches, together with Toronto, since getting back from a year-long damage layoff. She neither seemed nor appeared like a legend in decline. This was Williams at a sharpness approaching her better of years, making photographs with conviction, and benefiting from a bunch of fine fortune too, on net-cord photographs that felt the fitting means, and groundstrokes that kissed the strains, enjoying with extra freedom than she’s exhibited in ages.

Merely irresistible.

Don’t ask, although, if she believes she will be able to win this sucker. After all she does, however wouldn’t be so silly as to say so publicly.

“I can not suppose that far forward,” she responded as a substitute, to that very query. “I’m having enjoyable and I’m having fun with it. Simply being ready for everybody I play goes to be actually, actually exhausting.”

In her on-court interview, she exclaimed, “I’m loving this crowd!”, as they volubly liked her again. “Oh my goodness, it’s actually improbable. There’s nonetheless a little bit left in me. We’ll see…”

How did she do it, once more, on this night time?

“Nicely, I’m a fairly good participant,” she laughed, a large grin on her face, however she was critical, you realize? “I like a problem, I like rising to the problem.”

The handful of matches she’d performed earlier than arriving in Queens, why, Williams admitted she hadn’t even acknowledged herself. Which could have lots to do together with her trying over the horizon towards a post-tennis existence, her life so filled with different pursuits, enterprise alternatives, an funding firm that helps girls and minorities.

“This isn’t me!” she mentioned, of latest Serena. “The final couple of matches right here in New York it’s actually come collectively.”

Requested if she’d shocked herself, together with her degree of tennis proper now, Williams narrowed her eyes. Made me consider a line in “The Lengthy Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler: “The woman gave him a glance that must have caught at the least 4 inches out of his again.’’

Serena: “I’m simply Serena, you realize?”

Oh, we all know.

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist masking sports activities and present affairs for the Star. Comply with her on Twitter: @rdimanno


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