Serena Williams at the US Open is the greatest show on earth

And on we go. There are Tony Award winners on Broadway and Harry Styles plays at Madison Square Gardens, but the hottest ticket in New York right now is watching a 40-year-old woman try not to retire from tennis.

Forget that. There is no better show on the planet than the current one with Serena Williams at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Emotion, drama, pyrotechnics, a supporting cast of household names, this is an unmissable farewell made all the more spectacular by the fact that it could end at any minute. It’s a tightrope act without a net. Each show could be the last. On any given night, the greatest tennis player of all time could end her singles career forever.

She insists she isn’t retiring but is evolving away from tennis – but it’s what she could evolve into before leaving that’s keeping audiences in suspense. A 24-time Grand Slam winner? Who knows? After last night, no one is ready to say for sure where this journey will end.

Watching Serena Williams avoid retirement is the hottest ticket in New York right now

Watching Serena Williams avoid retirement is the hottest ticket in New York right now

The all-time tennis great could pull down the curtain on her singles career at any time

The all-time tennis great could pull down the curtain on her singles career at any time

The American icon beat Anett Kontaveit to face Alja Tomljanovic in the third round

The American icon beat Anett Kontaveit to face Alja Tomljanovic in the third round

Golf great Tiger Woods (right) was among those who came to pay homage to him on Wednesday

Golf great Tiger Woods (right) was among those who came to pay homage to him on Wednesday

It ends, we know, because Williams has said this is her farewell tournament and shows no signs of reversing that intent.

But with second-placed Anett Kontaveit outplayed and dispatched in three sets and 147 exceptional minutes, no one is convinced they’re seeing a cameo. Least of all the rest of the field.

On Monday, they saw Williams defeat a weaker opponent and possibly shrug. Many felt that the sheer emotional appeal of the occasion would bring such a great champion through.

Williams overplayed and sent the second seed over three sets and 147 minutes

Williams overplayed and sent the second seed over three sets and 147 minutes

But this? Nobody hits the second seed because a bunch of strangers are cheering and wanting it to happen.

Order seemed to have been restored as Kontaveit Williams broke service in three straight games to take the second set 6-2. No matter what she is and what she was, a player in Williams’ later years who has played five games in 14 months to this point can only go so far with the love of the common people.

That’s what made her third set so special. She looked the prospect of this development straight in the eye and decided: not tonight.

She broke and broke again, racing to a 4-1 lead and ending the match 6-2 with an unstoppable return that sailed back over the net with such confidence that the entire arena was on its feet before she landed. “This is her moment,” Kontaveit mused later. “This is all about her and I’m very aware of that.”

The Estonian later reflected that she was aware the night was all about Williams

The Estonian later reflected that she was aware the night was all about Williams

She was referring to the montage narrated by Queen Latifah welcoming Williams onto the pitch before each game. Her opponent enters first and then sits like a spare while Williams’ accomplishments and importance are detailed by one of America’s most celebrated voices on the radio.

Then enter the queen. All jet black and jewels, the obvious main attraction. The audience is now more excited about a price war than a tennis match. When it’s not exactly a bear pit, it’s certainly not what its WTA circuit contenders are used to.

Later, an observer, apparently seeing the glass as half full, asked Kontaveit if she noticed the crowd cheering her as she won two good points in a row, so their support was very even. Kontaveit said no, she hadn’t really noticed that. She tended to agree with another questioner who described the vibe as brutal.

And do you know who else is brutal? The GOAT, not restrained. On the pitch, Williams was reminded after the game that she had just removed the second seed and asked what she thought of that.

Her reaction was to laugh and lock onto the camera with that look Bugs Bunny always gave when he pulled off some colossal mischief. “I know,” it seemed to say. ‘Am I not a stinker?’ No, seriously, how do you do that? Serena suddenly looked shy. “Well, I was a pretty good player…”

Williams entered the courtyard with a video montage in black and crystals - clearly the main attraction

Williams entered the courtyard with a video montage in black and crystals – clearly the main attraction

Williams fixed the camera mischievously when asked if he should knock out the No. 2 seed

Williams fixed the camera mischievously when asked if he should knock out the No. 2 seed

Under the circumstances, this past tense seemed too modest. There is nothing about Williams in this tournament that seems historic.

Kontaveit didn’t say she would win, but she didn’t say she couldn’t either. Williams says it was the freest she’s played since 1998, and that should worry anyone who stands in her way.

This is really the GOAT unleashed. Williams won her first Grand Slam, the US Open, in 1999 and has had a target on her back ever since. A big red cross she called it. Now that’s gone. She made her career. She is ready. It’s fun, it feels like freedom, like 1998 before she was the one to beat. This is Serena in bonus time.

“Nothing to lose, nothing to prove,” she trilled. “I feel like I’ve already won just for being out there. I look back – it’s pretty awesome what I’ve done. Now I can just be Serena.”

Ajla Tomljanovic is her next opponent and she has previously expressed a desire to play Williams before retiring.

No doubt many players did when they thought they were about to face a Hall of Fame exhibit Emma Raducanu conceded 6-0 sets in her twilight years.

Her next opponent Ajla Tomljanovic previously expressed a desire to play with the big ones

Her next opponent Ajla Tomljanovic previously expressed a desire to play with the big ones

Maybe Tomljanovic feels different after old Serena stuck her head through the curtain. “I’m just glad I showed up because the last few times I haven’t,” she said.

And that’s true. It may have hastened Williams’ retirement that her recent outings have been poor. She said she was happy with her workouts but it wouldn’t translate into match performances. And now it is like this.

What a sight that remains. The sheer attack of those punches from the baseline, but the grace hidden in all that power. And the determination. She took a toilet break before the third set and returned with renewed energy.

She denied splashing water on her face like Novak Djokovic or giving a pep talk to the women in the mirror. “I just, um, lightened up,” she said, a confirmation of what Andy Murray revealed this week, an earthy sense of humor.

And yet she has that in her, this gear change, this shaking of the reins. Guesting in her box was Tiger Woods, another amazing competitor and breakaway who she says helped her decide to compete again.

“It didn’t come together,” Williams admitted. ‘I thought, ‘That’s not me’. I had so many questions I didn’t know what to do. He’s one of the main reasons I’m still playing.”

In the end, Woods stood up to greet his friend, both arms raised in the air as if holding barbells. You could see his muscles were still bulging.

Williams showed off her signature ballerina twist, one arm raised for the crowd; but when she stopped spinning, you could see the other arm at her side with the clenched fist. This is a damn good show.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-11167757/Serena-Williams-Open-greatest-planet.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Serena Williams at the US Open is the greatest show on earth

Andrew Kugle

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