Former world number one Mats Wilander is convinced that Serena Williams is now a genuine contender to win the US Open.
Many expected Serena to last just one match in New York before bidding an emotional farewell to tennis. After all, she came into the tournament with just a handful of matches in the past year.
She has defied all of those predictions, though, and on Wednesday she beat the second seed Anett Kontaveit in three sets to keep her career alive.
And, according to Eurosport expert Wilander, she may now be on course to deliver a fairytale ending.
“I have not heard a crowd that loud,” Wilander told Eurosport. “I think a lot of people must see Serena for the first time here, but she is going to be around, she is playing great. She beat the number two player in the world and that’s a ranking that means one of the most consistent players, I am stunned.
“But when she gets going, of course she can because she’s Serena and she hits the ball so well. The movement is much better than I ever could’ve expected and the serve is coming back. She is a threat now.
“I am surprised that she can keep it up but we’ve seen Serena do this at Grand Slam tournaments when she hasn’t had a lot of matches. She wins a match, then two, then the tables flip completely and now she is one of the favourites.
“That’s how you win 23 Slams I guess. She internalises the problem in front of her and uses the crowd. She becomes Serena and she has that eye of the tiger – amazing.
Serena Williams will go again on Thursday as she plays in the doubles with sister Venus, and Wilander worries fatigue could derail her singles hopes if she is not careful.
“I think she wants to save energy because she plays doubles tomorrow then singles again but it’s good to be tested in this way,” he said. “I think the first 20 minutes of this match where she realises she is playing well must give her confidence that I didn’t think would be there.
“I think it has to do with being relaxed and then in a strange way when you are playing someone like Kontaveit who hits the ball so well, I think Serena has to hit the ball slightly sooner. Serena knows how to read the game and how to anticipate. I am very impressed.
“I think she is hitting her forehand very well. Her forehand comes off so fast and so hard, the backhand doesn’t have the same power but she still prefers to hit the backhand. She looks calm when she comes forward, she hits a couple of sliced backhands. It’s very hard to describe what she is doing and how she feels."
Serena Williams will face Ajla Tomljanović in round three, and Wilander believes she will be in for another tough test.
“Everything is very open. If she played Ajla Tomljanović lets say three years ago, I say Serena is the favourite but Tomljanović has started doing better in the Slams. She is experienced and a tough player.
“I don’t think she will feel intimidated but it is tough for Serena to out hit Tomljanović. But who has any idea what it feels to go out there with the lights down and then there are fireworks. That will make everyone slightly intimidated. This is a good draw but this is a tough match.”
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