Does she actually need to retire?
Serena Williams might not win the U.S. Open — actually, it’s seemingly she gained’t — however she’s confirmed one factor by way of two rounds of this match. After beating No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6, 2-6, 6-2, we all know Williams can nonetheless play at a excessive, excessive degree.
Frankly, it wasn’t sure that was attainable at this stage of the sport. For quite a lot of causes, Williams hadn’t proven it since she made the 2021 Australian Open semifinals. That was 19 months in the past. At age 40, once you’ve gone that lengthy with out trying like among the finest on the planet, it’s arduous to know if it’ll ever occur once more.
For one night time, it did. Buoyed by the gang, and enjoying extra freely than she did in Monday’s first spherical, Williams surged, then seemed each bit her age, then dug into her nicely of expertise and resolve to come back by way of a 3rd set that rattled her 26-year-old opponent.
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And finally, it put Williams into the third spherical of a draw that has out of the blue laid out a believable path for the quarterfinals or past.
With Kontaveit now out of the way in which, Williams will face unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic within the third spherical. After that? There isn’t any different seeded participant in her approach till no less than the ultimate eight.
One way or the other, in opposition to important odds, it’s not untimely to start out trying forward and plotting a path to one thing particular subsequent week.
Williams has stated she’s most likely accomplished after this match, however regardless of the place this ends, she’s not operating on fumes. Her high degree remains to be very, superb. Think about what it is perhaps if she stated she was absolutely committing each ounce of power left in her physique to 1 extra yr with all of the coaching and match preparation and journey that she will bodily stand.
Barring a change of coronary heart, it’s not going to occur. However seeing how Williams carried out Wednesday night time in opposition to a professional high participant must no less than increase the query in her thoughts: What if?
No athlete at this age is aware of precisely what’s going to occur once they get away from bed within the morning. However within the first set, Williams performed about in addition to she will at this level in her profession.
She served superbly. She returned good serves with depth, function and tempo. In the midst of some rallies, she defended like a 25-year-old, not somebody whose motion has precipitously declined over the previous couple of years. For about an hour, Williams turned again the clock. And he or she barely gained it, eking out the set in a tiebreaker.
It didn’t appear sustainable, and it proved to not be as Williams crashed again to earth within the second set, dropping 6-2. Nevertheless it was additionally an exquisite reminder of the tennis Williams remains to be able to producing, no less than in brief bursts.
The query was whether or not she had sufficient within the tank to push again another time. The reply was an emphatic sure.
From the start of the third set, Williams was extra constant, extra composed and extra highly effective than Kontaveit, who regardless of her lofty rating has solely superior to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam as soon as in her profession. When the strain rose and the stakes obtained actually, actually excessive, Kontaveit was out of her league.
It was a glimpse of what even a diminished Williams will be at 40. And it was maybe a sign that the following a number of days are about to get loopy.
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“I’m simply taking a look at it as a bonus. I don’t have something to show. I don’t have something to win,” Williams stated after the match. ” … I’ve by no means obtained to play like this since ’98. Actually, I’ve had an ‘X’ on my again since ’99 [when she won her first US Open], so it’s type of enjoyable. I actually get pleasure from simply popping out right here and having fun with it. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been in a position to try this.”
A part of the issue with the previous couple of years of Williams’ profession is that she simply hasn’t performed very a lot tennis. She’s been so good that she will come to Grand Slam occasions and infrequently advance deep into the draw with out as a lot match preparation as her rivals. However once you take a look at the instances she’s come up simply brief, together with 4 losses in Slam finals since giving start to daughter Olympia, you wonder if just a few extra tournaments right here, just a few extra intense coaching blocks there, might need made all of the distinction.
The phrase is that Williams went all-in to organize for this U.S. Open. Including doubles legend and ESPN commentator Rennae Stubbs to her teaching workforce modified up her standard apply routine. She even performed a number of apply units in opposition to different WTA gamers, one thing she’s hardly accomplished in her twenty years on tour.
And you’ll see the distinction it’s made in Williams’ sport this week. She’s shifting and defending extraordinarily nicely. She’s reduce down on the wild misses. The timing of her ball strike appears to be like good.
However as a lot as her followers would possibly need her to play ceaselessly, that’s not a good commonplace both. It’s one factor to spend a month gearing up for a final dance. It’s a very completely different degree of dedication to do all of it yr lengthy, a lot much less when the physique doesn’t actually need to try this a lot work.
That’s the concession that Williams has made. She is aware of what it’ll take to compete with as we speak’s gamers, and it’s not simple. It might not even be one thing she desires to do.
That’s what makes an evening like Wednesday so particular, and so uncommon. For one good night time, Serena Williams was legitimately among the finest gamers on the planet.
Observe USA TODAY Sports activities columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken