The raucous US Open crowd: a unique advantage as Serena Williams bids to extend her farewell

The 23-time Grand Slam champion is being swept along at the US Open, with the help of a loud crowd, even by New York standards

Serena Williams USO crowd Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

Playing Serena Williams at the US Open has never been an easy task. She’s won the title six times and owns a win-loss record of 108-14 (and counting) at Flushing Meadows.

And with the help of an ever-ready raucous crowd, the 23-time Grand Slam champion is riding a wave at the US Open.

Having struggled badly for form this summer on her return from a year away, with a first-round loss at Wimbledon followed by one win in two hard-court events, the 40-year-old has transformed her game in her opening two rounds at Flushing Meadows, especially in her second-round win over No 2 seed Anett Kontaveit.

And if you’re not one of the lucky people to secure a ticket to her matches, it’s easy to tell what’s going on just by listening. Even for a crowd as traditionally rowdy as the New York one, at times, it has been deafening.

“Every point you know what’s happening,” said men’s world No 1 Daniil Medvedev, who followed Williams onto Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday and who was warming up outside, amazed by the noise coming from inside the court.

Just amazing. I’m not sure I saw anything like this before.

Daniil Medvedev

“If it’s silent, point is to the other girl,” he said. “If it goes boom, then Serena won the point. It was easy to know the score every time. It’s just amazing. I’m not sure I saw anything like this before.”

Serena Williams night session 2022
Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

Kontaveit in tears after Serena defeat

Handling the occasion, in what could be Serena’s last event, is an emotional task for those involved. Danka Kovinic said she was not overwhelmed, but could not handle Serena’s game, while No 2 seed Kontaveit battled well but was outplayed in three sets in the second round.

After the match, Kontaveit gave Williams due praise and answered questions about the crowd noise with patience. But when asked a first question in her native Estonian, the emotions boiled over and she had to leave the room.

Before then, Kontaveit had admitted it was hard to be on the other side of it all.

“I expected it,” she said. “You can expect something, I saw it from the previous match. When you’re on the court, I mean, it was hard. I knew it was coming. I guess you can’t learn from anyone else’s mistakes. Feeling it, it was something I never experienced before.”

Azarenka: “It’s not easy to handle”

The last woman to beat Williams at the US Open was Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals, two years ago. The Belarusian – who won that match behind closed doors because of the Covid-19 pandemic – said playing the American on home soil can be extremely difficult, remembering also her battles in the final against Serena in both 2012 and 2013.

“It’s not easy thing to handle, absolutely,” she said. “For somebody who has never been there, can be quite intimidating.

“For me, it always fuelled me to be better. You know, the second final that I lost to her, I actually had a lot of people supporting me, as well.”

Everyone was telling me this is the loudest court in tennis

Danka Kovinic, beaten by Williams in the first round

Azarenka said the crowd this year are even more determined to help Williams get over the line.

“Being it’s Serena’s last tournament, nobody wants to kind of miss those matches,” she said. “It’s pretty special. I’m sure it’s not an easy place to be across the net. But also special. I will say it’s special.”

Kovinic said she had struggled to hear the ball off Serena’s racquet.

“I remember first game, the forehand that I missed for Serena to leading 1-0, that one hit in the net, because everyone went crazy,” she said. “At that moment, I didn’t hear that sound so I couldn’t anticipate where the ball will go. That was the first moment when I realised, ‘OK, if they’re going to be this loud, whole match is going to be tough’.

“But also in some moments during the match, I couldn’t hear my shots and also hers. Sometimes it’s very tough to see when she hit the ball if it’s going deep or short. That was one thing definitely on the outside courts, we don’t have this experience. It was so loud. Everyone was telling me that this is maybe the loudest court in tennis.”

Danka Kovinic and Serena Williams, US Open 2022
Danka Kovinic and Serena Williams, US Open 2022 | © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Tomljanovic next to try to tame the crowd – and Serena

The next opponent for Williams will be Ajla Tomljanovic. The Australian is experienced and is looking forward to a memory she “will never forget”.

But the Aussie also knows that silencing the crowd will be difficult.

“When the crowd gets involved, that’s what it can get to you,” Tomljanovic told reporters. “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.”

Kontaveit said Williams deserved the home support, after everything she’s done in her career.

“I think they were not rooting like against me. They just wanted Serena to win so bad,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think it’s a personal attack against me or anything. It’s fair. She deserves this.”

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