“I never get to play like this, with nothing to lose, since 1998” – Serena embracing the underdog role at US Open

Serena Williams an underdog? The American icon believes it, and she’s making it work for her at the US Open

Serena Williams 2022 US Open Serena Williams of the U.S. celebrates after winning her second round match against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit || AI / Reuters / Panoramic

After closing out a monumental feel-good victory over No 2-seeded Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams told the packed house that she’s embracing her new status and milking it for all it is worth.

Williams is an underdog, and loving it in New York City.

“I’ve had an X on my back since ’99,” the 23-time major champion told the crowd after her 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2 victory over the Estonian.

“Honestly, I’m just looking at it as a bonus,” the six-time US Open champion said, the star-studded crowd roaring its approval. “I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have anything to win. I have absolutely nothing to lose.”

“Honestly, I never get to play like this, since ’98 really.”

“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

Williams is referring to her US Open debut. The then-unheralded little sister of Venus was not a household name at the time, but rather a promising potential star. She reached the third round that year, then came back a year later to win her first of 23 major singles titles as a 17-year-old, defeating Martina Hingis in the final.

She never looked back.

24 years later, Williams is enjoying a full-circle moment at what is likely her final Grand Slam, at the age of 40. The experience is giving her new energy.

Williams reiterated her feelings with reporters in her post-match press conference.

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

“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.”

A boost from Tiger

Williams has also benefitting from the advice of a fellow GOAT candidate. 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, who was in the crowd lending Williams his full-throated support.

“He’s one of the reasons I’m here, one of the main reasons I’m still playing,” Williams said. “So we talked a lot. He was really trying to get me motivated.

“There’s a few people, but we were like, ‘Okay, we can do this together, you know?’

“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.”

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