Serena Williams has found the courage of yesteryear to stay alive at the US Open and delight a frenetic Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Unlocking a level of play from the vaults of history, the 40-year-old American knocked out number two seed Anett Kontaveit, roared by everyone packing the sport’s biggest arena.
Tiger Woods was among those who came to pay their respects, and all were rewarded with a thrilling 7-6 2-6 6-2 that lasted two hours and 27 minutes.
Poor Kontaveit didn’t know where to look in the end, and next for the treatment will be Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic, his third-round opponent.
Williams’ serve backed her up in the first and third sets, but it was also striking how well she covered the court, fueled by boisterous support throughout. Something big can stir.
“I love that crowd, it’s fantastic, there’s still a little bit left in me,” she said. “I like to take on challenges and take on challenges. The last two matches have really come close. After losing the second set, I thought I had to give my best.
Serena Williams defeated second seed Anet Konatveit in the second round of the US Open on Wednesday
The 40-year-old triumphed in a thrilling 7-6 2-6 6-2 that lasted two hours and 27 minutes
The American icon beat the 26-year-old to set up a third-round clash against Alja Tomljanovic
Golfing great Tiger Woods (right) watched was among those who came to pay their respects
“I’m super competitive, I just consider it a bonus. I have absolutely nothing to lose. I’ve had an X on my back since 1999.’
Through no fault of her own, Kontaveit could be the most anonymous world No. 2 in history, with her ranking based on strong performances throughout the year rather than spectacular Grand Slam performances.
In a highly questionable move, Williams’ opponent was sent onto the pitch again, only to have to sit there and wait for the American’s delayed arrival while the television played a montage.
The Estonian was certainly a higher caliber opponent than the previous contender to end Williams’ singles career, Danka Kovinic.
Poor world number 2 Kontaveit from Estonia didn’t know where to look in the end
It was also striking how well she covered the ground, excited throughout by loud support
Equipped with a solid serve and groundstrokes that have gained greater speed in recent seasons, she has always had the firepower to test the movement of the 40-year-old.
It looked sharper here due to an accumulation of practice sets played by Williams, and it helped her create two break points in Kontaveit’s opening service game.
Saving them settled someone who might have felt like the underdog, despite being ranked 603 places higher than the opposition.
After game seven, Williams, whose first serve landed 83% of the time, had created five break points but couldn’t take any.
The Estonian was certainly a higher caliber opponent than previous contender Danka Kovinic
But the pressure set in and at 4-4 Kontaveit sent a long backhand on a sixth to give Williams the lead, only for her to play the weakest game of the game and get broken.
Kontaveit’s winners were met with stony silence, but when she missed a bunt at 3-4 in the tiebreaker, there was rapturous pandemonium. Williams closed it out from there, 7-4.
Then came a turnaround that saw the American service lose some of its power and the Estonian ground back on the pitch much more. Once she broke twice, it looked like Williams had decided to regroup for a decider.
She left the pitch and came back revived to take a 2-0 lead and then go 40-0 before a double fault helped set her back and break her.
The pressure started to build on Kontaveit as unforced errors started to creep into his game.
Kontaveit winners were met with stony silence as Arthur Ashe clearly backed Williams
The crowd were stunned, but didn’t have to wait long before they woke up again as, in another twist, Williams again broke against an angry Kontaveit, who seemed to be feeling the huge tide against her.
At 4-2, she was threatened but showed remarkable defensive skills to fend off a break point and then move into a game-winning game after a swinging volley that was met with a cacophonous reaction.
The match ended with minimal drama, and the next episode will be Thursday’s double.
Relive all the action of the US Open clash between Serena Williams and Anett Kontaveit with ISABEL BALDWIN’s Sportsmail live blog.
. Serena Williams BAT world number Anett Kontaveit three sets for reach third round lUS Open