SERENA WILLIAMS had a thrilled Tiger Woods on up his feet in applause as she enjoyed one of her best wins since becoming a mum.
American’s finest female sports star – who is hanging up her racket after this year’s US Open – moved into the third round with a 7-6 2-6 6-2 victory over Estonian Anett Kontaveit.
Golfing icon Woods, 46, spoke to friend Williams about her decision to quit professional tennis after 27 years on the Tour.
And 15-time major winner Woods – who knows a thing or two about sporting miracles – was in the stands with his girlfriend Erica Herman to watch Williams knock out the second-highest seed in the women’s draw.
There are still five more matches to go, of course, but Williams remarkably remains in the hunt to equal Margaret Court’s mark of 24 Slam singles titles that has stood in the record books for 49 years.
A mark that she has been desperately chasing ever since she won the Australian Open in 2017 and then gave birth to daughter Olympia eight months later.
The Californian is not the title favourite in New York – world No.1 Iga Swiatek still has that mantle – but when she is in this mood, it is clear it will take a top performance to eliminate her from the draw.
Like in the first round, Williams was introduced to the court as the “greatest of all time” while a video montage of her career narrated by Queen Latifah was played on the big screens.
Williams, wearing the same diamond-laced outfit and shoes from Monday night, knew she had to raise her level against the highest-ranked opponent she has faced this year.
And the 40-year-old tried her best to keep the rallies short – while many disrespectful fans in the Arthur Stadium cheered Kontaveit’s double faults and unforced errors.
Indeed British umpire Alison Hughes had her work cut out to keep quiet those calling out Williams’s name throughout the match.
The crowd were up on their feet in raptures when Williams sealed the first set in the tie-break with a 91mph ace, the fifth one she had fired down by that point.
Yet whether it was fatigue or a lack of focus, Williams was unable to sustain the same level of intensity in the second set and soon found herself 3-0 down.
The fifth game was notable because from 40-0 up, she contrived to surrender her serve and from there Kontaveit won the next three games to level up at 1-1 in sets.
Williams, who turns 41 in September, was certainly fired up in the third set and started arguing with the umpire about the line calling.
In the end, it did not matter as she rediscovered her mojo to book a third-round appointment on Friday against either Russian Evgeniya Rodina or Australian Ajla Tomljanovic.
Before then, there is the small matter of a first-round doubles match with her elder sister Venus on Thursday night under the floodlights.
Serena said: “I’m loving this crowd and it’s really fantastic so – there’s still a little left in me.
“I love rising to the challenge. I haven’t played many matches but i’ve been practicing really well. The last couple of matches here it’s really come together.
“After I lost the second set I thought ‘Oh my goodness I want to give my best effort because this could be it’. I just kept trying and it was super exciting.
“I’m super competitive. Honestly I’m just looking at it as a bonus. I don’t have anything to prove or anything to win.
“I’ve had an X on my back since 1999. I’m enjoying just coming out and playing like this.”