Serena Williams Resets Expectations With Second Win at 2022 U.S. Open
Serena Williams extended her run at the 2022 U.S. Open on Wednesday night in a three-set thriller over the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Annet Kontaveit. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim and Chris Almeida discuss whether Williams, at age 40, can now be considered a serious contender in what she’s said will be her final professional tournament.
Chris Almeida: All right, Serena Williams is onto the next round. This was certainly more compelling than her first-round match—it was against Anett Kontaveit, the second seed, and it went three sets, 7–6, 2–6, 6–2. There was some gravity to this match. Serena had the pressure put on her, and she responded. She played great.
Jon Wertheim: On the one hand, a six-time U.S. Open champion winning a match at the U.S. Open can never be an upset. On the other: This is one of the more stunning results I’ve seen in a long time. We should point out early here that Kontaveit is No. 2 in the seedings, but she’s got some long COVID issues and is clearly not the world’s second-best player. But still: 48 hours ago, Serena had won one match in the last 12 months and had lost her last set 0–6. Can we talk about her seriously, now, as a U.S. Open contender? There’s still a long way to go. but this was really impressive. She didn’t just beat the second-seeded player, she didn’t just beat someone 15 years younger than her, but she looked like the Serena of old while doing it.
CA: She was doing everything. She was moving super well, hitting winners from everywhere. And the crowd … they’re really behind her. Clearly that is a huge part of this. I watched this all more or less happen two days ago, and still, the absolute silence every time Kontaveit won a point was unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Tiger Woods was in the audience tonight, and this felt like what it feels like when he’s playing tournaments now. The galleries revolve around his every move. Everybody is there for him. I mentioned on Monday that this could turn into an Agassi-Baghdatis situation. Well, that’s the closest comparison I could think of. The crowd was entirely in one corner.
JW: If you were struck by that, rest assured Serena’s opponent is, too. This is not a sport that does home games and road games. And I think that you know her next opponent is going to feel this, too. Tennis players are used to playing 23,000-seat arenas, and they certainly aren’t used to walking into those arenas and having every single person in the building rooting against them. You don’t prepare for that. You’ve never had that experience before.
And, look, I know that we still have five rounds to go. It’s easy to sort of spin this into a Hollywood ending, so I would caution against that. But if anyone thought Serena was going to come here and mail it in and take her victory lap, we’ve gotten five sets of indication that’s not going to be the case.
CA: So next she’s got Ajla Tomljanović, a fine player, but certainly not somebody with a lot of stadium court reps.
JW: She’s 10-plus years younger, but not somebody who is known as one of the sport’s great closers. I have to think that she will be a little bit jarred by 23,000 people rooting for her opponent. This is another winnable match. If you can beat the No. 2 player as Serena did today, you can certainly win another round.
CA: It’s certainly going to keep being like this until it gets to the later rounds and Serena comes up against someone with a fan base of their own. And that might take a while with this draw and with a lot of big names losing very early. I don’t know how many people are really bringing even a little contingent of theirs into the arena.
JW: Keep in mind too how few players have played Serena as well. Because Serena hasn’t played a ton recently and some players just burst onto the scene, a lot of this will be entirely new to them. So not only do they have this weight of the occasion and history and the fans and the moment but a lack of competitive experience against this particular opponent as well. Iga Swiatek has never played Serena Williams! You sort of go down the list and there are a lot of players who have never had the experience of playing her before. And so that’s something else that probably works to Serena’s advantage.
CA: Alright, onto the next one. See you Friday!
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.