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Serena Williams says she feels like she has had a target on her back her whole career, but she is free of it now.

Williams won her first major in 1999 before going on to become the most dominant woman in Open Era history.

She will retire after the US Open, meaning any match could be her last. However, rather than that causing her fear, she says it is giving her a rare sense of freedom instead.

“I feel like everything is a bonus,” she said after beating Anett Kontaveit in the second round. “Like, it's that weird mixture of embracing but also staying focused. So I'm just really trying to figure out which percentage I want of each.

“Yeah, I just feel like I have had a big red X on my back since I won the US Open in '99. It's been there my entire career, because I won my first Grand Slam early in my career.

Serena Williams on court at the US Open

“But here it's different. I feel like I've already won, figuratively, mentally. It's just pretty awesome the things that I've done.

“I never think about it. So tonight I was just like: ’Serena, you've already won, just play, be Serena. You're better than this.’ That's what I was able to do.

It was another raucous atmosphere on Arthur Ashe with the crowd incredibly engaged.

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In fact, it is difficult to remember an atmosphere like it at any tennis tournament, never mind just the US Open. It certainly hasn’t been lost on Serena Williams just how special it is.

“The experience was really good,” she said. “I think you can only have this experience once in a lifetime, for sure.

“I'm playing pretty good. I feel, like I said on the court, I've been practicing really well, but it hasn't been coming together in matches.

“But, you know, now it's kind of coming together, I guess. I mean, I had to bring it together today. It worked out.”

On upcoming third-round opponent Ajla Tomljanovic, Serena added: “She's been playing pretty intense and I've been actually watching her matches a lot. I saw her play last week or a week and a half to go.

“Yeah, she's been through a lot of injuries, so I kind of respect that. I think it's going to be a good match.”

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