Diamond-clad veteran Serena Williams produced some of her best tennis since reaching the Australian Open semi-finals last January to reach the third round of the US Open where she goes up against Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday; tennis analyst Barry Cowan says "never rule out a champion"
Thursday 1 September 2022 20:12, UK
Serena Williams has hailed the influence of Tiger Woods after the golfing great persuaded her to have one final crack.
Woods joins the stars on a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium to cheer Williams on to victory over second seed Anett Kontaveit after another sparkling performance from the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
The dream ending is still a long way away, but this display showed it might just be a possibility.
Williams revealed in the Vogue essay announcing her "evolution" away from tennis that Woods had given her advice on whether to have one final crack.
She said of the 15-time major champion: "He's one of the reasons I'm here, one of the main reasons I'm still playing. We talked a lot. He was really trying to get me motivated.
"There's a few people, but we were like, 'OK, we can do this together'. It was good, because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was just lost, so many questions. When you can rely on someone like that - I mean, my goodness, he's Tiger Woods - it was really helpful to get clarity."
Coming back to the sport is certainly looking a wise move now, and Williams, who next faces Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic, clearly believes she has more to offer.
"It's no rush here," she said. "I'm loving this crowd. There's still a little left in me. We'll see. I'm a pretty good player, this is what I do best. I love a challenge and I'm rising to the challenge.
"I haven't played many matches, but I've been practising really well. The last couple of matches it's come together. After I lost the second set I thought, 'I've got to give my best effort because this could be it'.
"I'm just looking at it as a bonus. I don't have anything to lose. I've had an X on my back since 1999. I really enjoy just coming out and enjoying it."
Win, lose or draw, Tomljanovic said she will relish the opportunity to play her idol.
The 29-year-old said Williams' impact reverberates well beyond the tennis court.
"I think she's changed the sport of tennis, but also what she's done worldwide for women in sports is incredible," she said.
"She's paved the way for so many, inspired me to go for my dreams. Even her longevity. I'm kind of in the part of my career now where they call you on the older side. She's made that kind of nonexistent. 'Old' is not even a word in her vocabulary. Very grateful to her like that.
"I don't think there's anyone like her, obviously."
One challenge for Tomljanovic will be finding a way to not let the Serena-supporting crowd get under her skin.
"When the crowd gets involved, that's what it can get to you," Tomljanovic said.
"I just need to stay within my little bubble, have my corner that I go to when I need help just for support, block it out as much as I can."
Tennis analyst Barry Cowan told Sky Sports' Raz Mirza: "If you asked me before the tournament, I'd have said absolutely not. If you asked me after the first round, I thought potentially. You look at the bottom half of the draw - my favourite was Simona Halep - but she lost early, while Maria Sakkari has also lost early.
"I'm not surprised Serena won against Kontaveit because the second seed has not been in the same form as last year and the beginning of this year.
"The crowd played a huge part and I think they even eclipsed her. The more times she gets out there and she plays at a high level, who knows!
"Her mindset has changed because currently she's just been trying to enjoy the last few weeks of her career - potentially. We still don't know where and when it will be.
"She looks relaxed so never rule out a champion."
Cowan added: "Serena has been massively undercooked coming into the US Open. It's clear that her level from what it was at Wimbledon has improved dramatically and I feel the more time she's there playing a singles or doubles match, it will help her play on instinct.
"It doesn't seem as though she has lost much on serve and so long as Serena hits the spots, she's going to make it very tough for who she plays.
"When you add in the women's draw, the bottom half is so wide open, but I still feel there are better players than Serena although they might just go weak at the knees if they know they have to play Serena. The dream lives on."
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