LIVE – Updated at 02:58
Game-by-game report: The 23-time major champion saw off the No 2 seed to continue her run in what is likely to be her final tournament.
If this match had been in Adelaide or Prague or any other WTA Tour stop, maybe Anett Kontaveit would’ve defeated Serena Williams.
But in New York and Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena is still Serena. Kontaveit didn’t play badly in the least. This match wasn’t handed to Serena. She had to earn it, with her powerful serve back on target through much of the match, and she frequently destroyed Kontaveit’s second serve.
She did drop a set. That, though, just made her ramp up the intensity.
“Oh my goodness. I’ve got to give my best effort because this could be it,” Serena said of her third-set mindset in her postmatch interview.
And this isn’t a typical tournament for her. She doesn’t need to do anything else to cement her legacy. She doesn’t want to lose, of course, and she’ll rev it up when her back’s against the wall as it was after 100 minutes on the court. But after years – decades, really – of being the player with the target on her back, she’s enjoying the pressure-free days of being an underdog.
“I have nothing to lose.”
And probably a bit more to win.
That’s it for the Serena Show tonight. She’ll be back in singles action on Friday. But she’ll also be back on this same stage – same time, same place – Thursday night as she and her sister Venus start their run in the doubles draw.
Serena Williams advances to the third round
Needing a composed return to the form she has had through much of this match, Kontaveit instead double-faults. She misses her next serve as well and loses the rally off her second. She again misses her first serve, and Serena’s return of the second is deadly. Kontaveit stays in briefly but hits in the net.
Triple match point.
Second serve, and Serena just pounces. It’s over. Final: 7-6, 2-6, 6-2
Williams 7-6 2-6 5-2 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
The most surprising aspect of this match has been how well the 40-year-old Williams has covered the court. She’s stuck on the defensive through much of a 19-shot rally but perseveres and turns the tide to go up 30-15. Kontaveit elicits an error with a well-driven shot to take it to 30-30. Can she break back?
She gets a chance right away, as Serena hits one long. But Serena’s next serve takes Kontaveit one way, and she hits her next shot the other way.
The last point is spectacular. Serena scrambles and hits a shot that arcs in the air like a pop fly in baseball. It lands on the baseline. Kontaveit hits it back, but there’s Serena for the winner. That might have been Kontaveit’s last chance.
*Williams 7-6 2-6 4-2 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
People who doubted Kontaveit – or had never heard of her – should know by now that she can play. She holds at love with some emphatic groundstrokes.
Williams 7-6 2-6 4-1 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
Serena takes issue with the little doo-dad that detects a let. Then she shrugs it off and plays brilliantly to go up 40-0. As we’ve seen a couple of times, that’s no guarantee.
But this time, she runs Kontaveit around the court, and the Estonian finally hits one wide. Serena holds at love.
*Williams 7-6 2-6 2-0 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
Serena swats away Kontaveit’s serve like a pesky bug to storm out to 0-30. Kontaveit responds with a couple of better serves, and it’s 30-30. But Serena’s returns the next one well, and Kontaveit’s effort to switch the ball to the other side of the court goes wide. Break point.
And Serena puts it in the net. This is turning into a very long match.
We get a good long rally, but Kontaveit again hits wide as she tries to make Serena scramble. Break point again.
Fault by Kontaveit, and the umpire once again gets the handful of people murmuring in the crowd to hush. The crowd gets much more vocal when Kontaveit hits one just on the line to bring it to deuce. After seeing the replay, some fans think the cameras and chips got it wrong, and some boos rain down. Serena sportingly waves a hand and then a finger to get the crowd to knock it off. They do. No one in this stadium is going to argue with Serena.
Ad Kontaveit. Deuce. Is this still just the second game of this set?
Ad Williams. Break point again.
And this time she gets it, on an unforced error. Kontaveit may have just let her chance slip.
Williams 7-6 2-6 2-1 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
Maybe we should get the celebrity-spotting done now, because Serena has found that serve again.
We already know that Tiger Woods is here. The cameras have also found longtime girlfriend Lindsey Vonn elsewhere in the stadium.
Arguably, that’s three GOATs (women’s tennis, men’s golf, women’s Alpine skiing) in one stadium.
And … oh wait. Serena has once again gone from 40-0 up to break point. But Kontaveit just barely hits long, and we’re back to deuce just as the match hits the two-hour mark.
A big rally follows, with both players banging the ball with significant force. Kontaveit puts on a little too much force, hitting wide.
Then Serena comes oh so close to winning a terrific point. She scrambles to cover a shot in the corner and seems completely off balance as her shot finds the frontcourt. Kontaveit calmly hits to the other side of the court, and Serena gets there, lobs … just a foot or so too far.
With that, Serena falters. For the second time in the match, Kontaveit has turned what looked like a routine Serena hold into a break. And this isn’t over. Ignore my first paragraph.
*Williams 7-6 2-6 3-1 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
Each player sends one long, and then Serena shows her quality again, driving a couple of shots that are too hot to handle. That’s good for two break points, and Kontaveit hands her the game on the first. Control and momentum back to the legend.
Williams 7-6 2-6 1-0 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
Serena leaves the court and takes a bit of a break before returning to face what has turned into a massive challenge. She hits long on the first point but shows her power on the next four for a solid start to the third set.
Anett Kontaveit wins second set
The pop that Serena showed in the first set just isn’t there right now. Kontaveit starts with a service winner, then wins a rally in which Serena just doesn’t do much. Kontaveit wins the next to earn triple set point. She gives one away but leaves no doubt on the next. Ace.
Is Serena Williams about to play the last set of her career? Will she be able to draw on her unmatched experience to pull this out, or will she show her age and fade out?
Williams 7-6 2-5 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
In the time it takes me to recap the last game, Serena holds at love. Kontaveit now serving for the set.
*Williams 7-6 1-5 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
In the time it takes me to post a link, Kontaveit holds at love. Serena now serving to stay in the set.
Courtney Walsh confirms in this recap that there was an odor of marijuana in the Nick Kyrgios match.
Williams 7-6 1-4 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
You can’t really say Serena would’ve gained any confidence from getting the break back in this set. Kontaveit’s suddenly faltering serve made it rather easy. What Serena really needs to complete her comeback is to get that serve going again.
And she does. For a bit. With her booming serve finding its mark, she goes up 40-0. Kontaveit digs in to make it 40-15, and Serena double-faults.
Serena’s next serve is a strong one, and Kontaveit can only hit it up into the stratosphere. But it lands in play, and Kontaveit wins the rally for deuce.
The next point is a master class in placing shots in the frontcourt, with Kontaveit having the last word to earn break point.
Serena fends that off, and they trade points, with Serena double-faulting again. Kontaveit’s next return is sublime, dropped just over the net where Serena can’t possibly get there.
Facing another break point, Serena dinks it into the net. From 40-0 to giving up the break.
*Williams 7-6 1-3 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
So, at this point … who can say any more? Kontaveit double-faults to make it 15-all, then misses her next serve as well. She wins that one, but she isn’t as lucky with her second serve on the next point, flailing at Serena’s hard-driven return. Then it’s another double fault, and Kontaveit looks exasperated as she faces break point.
After a brief rally, it’s an unforced error, and Kontaveit has handed back half of her advantage.
Williams 7-6 0-3 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
So, at this point, Kontaveit would surely be overpowered as Serena cranks up the serve. Right?
For a couple of points, yes, but another well-placed winner from Kontaveit makes it 40-30. Then Kontaveit calmly sends Serena’s second serve down the line, again leaving Williams just watching as it floats by. Deuce.
But Serena still has a few tricks up her jewel-encrusted sleeves. Her serve baffles Kontaveit, and she takes the advantage.
Yet again, though, Kontaveit is finding the open spots on the court. One point back. Another point back. Then she hits one off the net cord that once again leaves Serena just watching. Break two.
*Williams 7-6 0-2 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
So, at this point, Kontaveit would surely have a lapse. Right?
Nope. The second seed is simply hitting it where Serena does not expect it to go, leaving the legend flat-footed, and it’s a routine hold.
Williams 7-6 0-1 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
So, at this point, Kontaveit would surely fold. Right?
Nope. Serena shanks a shot to make it 0-30, and Kontaveit paints the line to go up 0-40. Then it’s a clean winner to break at love.
Serena Williams wins first set
As the set passes the one-hour mark, Serena goes for the changeup on her serve, opting for placement over power. It works Kontaveit returns, but Serena drills her next shot down the line. Then it’s back to power, with Kontaveit unable to get it back in play. 4-3 Serena.
The chair umpire has been warning the crowd about making noise after Kontaveit’s service faults. It’s not much, though. But it’s quite loud when Kontaveit, perhaps unnerved by Serena charging the net, errs again. Mini-break to Serena, 5-3.
Serena then makes her most impressive return of the match, inexplicably reaching a powerful, perfectly place serve. Then she makes an unforced error on the next shot. Make the hard shot, miss the easy one. 5-4
Kontaveit starts with an ace, then successfully returns Serena’s second serve. But Serena wins that point and makes quick work of the next to go up 2-1.
Serena’s next return, though, goes straight into the net. 2-2
Kontaveit’s first serve goes into the net. Will Serena demolish the second serve? Well, sort of. She gets the net cord, and while it falls into play, Kontaveit can play it, and Serena’s next shot finds the net. 3-2
Williams 6-6 Kontaveit
Maybe it’s a little erratic over these past two games, but Serena’s serve is still potent. She follows a double fault (making it 30-30) with an unreturnable first serve and wins a brief rally to force the tiebreak.
*Williams 5-6 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
Serena still has the return of Kontaveit’s second serve dialed in, though. She rips one down the line to make this game 30-30.
Kontaveit responds with a serve that Serena barely reaches, then another that sets up a perfect drop shot. Serena will serve to stay in it.
Williams 5-5 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
Don’t hand the first set to Serena just yet. An unforced error puts Kontaveit up 0-30, and Serena suddenly seems frustrated with that cannon of a first serve. A scintillating rally of 20 shots follows, with Kontaveit keeping Serena off balance with the odd sliced shot mixed in with the power. All of a sudden, the second seed has three break points.
Ace. Make it two.
But a double fault ends it. We’re level. The crowd is stunned. And if Serena’s serve is deserting her, this is going to be tough going.
*Williams 5-4 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
The second point is literally a baseline battle, with both players hitting shots that barely stay in play. It’s a thrilling rally that gets the crowd going, with Serena against covering the court well to return a smash.
And yikes. Kontaveit unnecessarily hits one long, and Serena has yet another break point. That’s her sixth.
And after being bailed out by the net cord once, Kontaveit again hits long. At last, Serena has her break, and she’ll serve for the set.
*Williams 3-4 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
A squandered opportunity for Serena, giving up three break points in an epic seventh game. A slip on the baseline didn’t help, but Serena doesn’t appear to be injured.
Nick Kyrgios defeats Benjamin Bonzi
The Australian advances 7-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
Tommy Paul has defeated Sebastian Korda 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Top seed Daniil Medvedev faces Arthur Rinderknech on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court after Serena and Kontaveit wrap up, which may be a while as this game has gone more than 12 minutes.
(Game still going)
How’s the commentary where you’re watching around the globe? In the US, it’s a little condescending toward Kontaveit, as if they’re describing a gymnast trying to avoid a nasty fall.
The intriguing point here is at 40-30, where a Serena return literally knocked Kontaveit down. She quickly got to her feet, only to see Serena’s shot hit the net cord and drip over for the point.
Kontaveit served well to take the advantage and then hit into the net at the end of the match’s best rally so far. The crowd roared, just as some in the crowd have applauded each time Serena’s opponents have faulted in her first two matches.
To their credit, they were much louder after a brilliant Serena return, again pouncing on a second serve to leave Kontaveit flailing.
The net cord giveth and the net cord taketh away. At deuce (again), the cord saved a Kontaveit shot that was sailing wide, giving her another opportunity to serve out the game. But again – it’s a second serve, and Serena, just drills it.
It’s pretty simple here, even though the US Open site isn’t giving us stats tonight. When Kontaveit hits her first serve, she usually wins the point. When she’s forced to a second, she’s in deep trouble.
We have an unexpected epic in a matchup of US men in the Grandstand, where Tommy Paul won the first set 6-0 but is now in a fifth set and fourth hour against Sebastian Korda.
Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios has gone up 5-4 and has three break points.
Williams 3-3 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
“Serena senses the nerves on the other side of the court,” Evert says. That, or she’s just hitting well-placed shots with power.
At least, she was, until she went up 40-0 and followed up with a double fault and a subdued second serve and a rally that Kontaveit finished well.
Serena’s next serve, though, is quite good, and it’s 3-3.
*Williams 2-3 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
Serena is looking to pounce on the second serve and does so to cut the lead to 30-15. Chrissie Evert, commenting along with John McEnroe and Chris Fowler on ESPN, thinks Kontaveit looks a little unsure of herself.
Then Kontaveit easily wins the next point and rips a service winner to close out the game.
If Kontaveit is struggling with nerves and still doing this well, what happens if the confidence starts flowing?
In fairness, her second serve has been quite weak. But she doesn’t look the least bit intimidated by Serena’s power.
Venus WIlliams is now sitting two seats from Tiger Woods.
Williams 2-2 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
Kontaveit certainly looks poised. Serena rushes to the net in the midst of a rally, and the second seed simply rips it past her, leaving Serena to only watch. A booming serve evens up the game, and they trade points to get to 30-30.
Then we get the first highlight-reel shot of the game, and it’s a stunning, scorching diagonal service return from Kontaveit. Break point, but Serena’s next three serves are far better.
So the bad news if you’re rooting for Serena is that she doesn’t seem dominant. But the good news is that neither does Kontaveit. Serena looks like even money here, not a 2-1 underdog.
*Williams 1-2 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
Serena takes the first point but drops the next on a drop shot that drops far too soon. Kontaveit, though, deposits a shot in the net and then fumbles on the next point to give Serena two chances to break. The first is lost on a return that goes too long. Kontaveit erases the second with an ace.
At deuce, Serena unleashes the power, hitting a return hard and deep. But Kontaveit deals with it adroitly, and Serena hits one out. Serena seems to have the better of the next rally, but Kontaveit rushes to cover a shot in the frontcourt and dinks it over the net and onto the line.
Celebrities spotted on ESPN so far: Tiger Woods and Dionne Warwick.
Williams 1-1 Kontaveit* (* – denotes next server)
Kontaveit scores first with relative ease, but then Serena finds her serve and rattles off three devastating shots. The next rally ends with an unforced error, and we’re even.
*Williams 0-1 Kontaveit (* – denotes next server)
Well, that looked very much like the world’s No. 2 player serving to a rusty low-rated player. Kontaveit holds at love.
Kontaveit serving. Crowd is subdued. Serena is wearing more glittery stuff.
Another note from Kyrgios match: The high-strung Australian has called out someone in the crowd for smoking weed.
Meanwhile, the winner of the other match I tracked on Monday, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, has dropped the third set but still leads two sets to one over Benjamin Bonzi.
And now we get a video narrated by Queen Latifah. “The Queen of Queens,” she’s named, in reference to the New York borough that hosts this tournament and where I was stuck in traffic a few days ago.
ESPN is showing the Beyoncé video again. We must be within 30 minutes or so of playing.
(More seriously, the time of 7:15 ET has been mooted, so maybe we’re less than 15 minutes away?)
We can verify from the practice court that her warmup gear is somewhat more subdued than what she was wearing Monday.
While we wait, we should note that two generations (well, half-generations) of US players inspired by the Williams sisters will meet in the third round. Coco Gauff, still just 18 years old, defeated Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse 6-2, 7-6 on the big stage at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She’ll face 27-year-old Madison Keys, who was pushed to the limit to beat Italy’s Camila Giorgi 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 after trailing 2-5 in the third set.
Gauff is seeded 12th. Keys, who played in the slightly smaller Louis Armstrong Stadium, is 20th. Keys won their only head-to-head match earlier this year in Adelaide.
Welcome to what may very well be the last match of Serena Williams’ career.
Even with some rust and the distractions of interminable pomp and circumstance, Serena was expected to get past Danka Kovinić in the first round, and she did. Tonight, she’s roughly a 2-1 underdog against second-seeded Estonian Anett Kontaveit.
Oddly enough, they’ve never played each other, a testament to how little Serena has really played over the past couple of years.
Beau will be here shortly, with the match due to start around 7.30pm local time (9.30am AEST/12.30am BST). Meanwhile, here’s a bit of pre-match reading:
Sparkling Serena Williams overcomes tepid start to delight US Open crowd. In her first-round match the 23-times major singles champion won another chance to engineer one last signature moment at Flushing Meadows
Serena Williams’ unapologetic greatness is a beacon to Black girls everywhere. Serena showed Black girls like my daughters that they have to be confident and proud of themselves, says NBA veteran Etan Thomas
Farewell is an eloquent acknowledgement of biological inequality. Williams’s career is ending before it would if she were a male player, simply because she must choose between tennis and having more children, says Andy Bull.
They couldn’t touch her: how Serena Williams became a rare legend. Prejudice and hostility stalked her through a career of scarcely believable achievement, one that reflected much about the US