The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion has left an indelible mark not just in tennis but across all sports.
Tomlajanovic won 7-5 6-7(4) 6-1 in just over three hours to advance to the round of 16 at the US Open for the first time.
“I don’t think so, but you never know,” she said.
In a joyous, tear-filled interview, she thanked her parents, saying she was very grateful to them for starting it all.
And she credits her older sister Venus Williams for her success.
“I wouldn’t be Serena without Venus,” she said. “Serena Williams is the only reason she exists.”
“I love Serena like you do,” Tomlajanovic said regretfully.
“What she’s done for me, for the game of tennis, is incredible,” he said in his interview on court. “When I remember watching her as a kid in all those finals, I never thought I’d get the chance to play with her in her last, so it was a surreal moment for me.”
Domljanovic was asked how he handled the occasion in this electric atmosphere at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I thought she was going to beat me, you know,” Tomlajanovic said. “The pressure’s not on me. She’s Serena. I — even at the end when she was down 5-1 I knew she was in a good position to win. I don’t know. How many match points it took me to finish it, but she’s who she is. All the time.” She’s the best.”
“I’m Serena,” she remarked, in what will no doubt be one of the game’s most memorable moments.
The ability to find another gear and dig deeper in the most difficult moments has been the foundation of Williams’ success on tour for more than 20 years.
World No. 46 Domljanovic showed the same grit and determination that has made his game great on Friday.
Williams, the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, fought off five match points before a shot into the net ended it.
“I tried,” Williams said. “Ajla played a little better.”
A nightly crowd of 23,859 at Arthur Ashe Stadium cheered Williams to another victory, but on this night, the winner of 847 career matches and 73 titles was second best.
Given her form coming into the US Open — just one win since returning to the circuit in June after a year out with injury — it’s fair to assume that Williams’ opening-round match against Tanka Kovinj will be little more than an emotional farewell. From tennis to the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
But being “just Serena,” Williams produced the best tennis of the season to completely dispatch Kovinj and extend her last dance in New York by two days.
Then came Kontaveit, the world No. 2 and one of the toughest players on the Tour. The Estonian will provide a much stiffer test than Kovinic and Williams will no doubt be at considerable disadvantage.
Surely, after two glittering decades, this is where Williams’ career would end? Of course it isn’t. After all, she’s “just Serena.”
In a three-set victory over Kontaveit, Williams raised her tennis status to a level many thought she would never reach again. Accuracy and power seem to have returned to her widely feared serve, as does her speed around the court.
Tomlajanovic reached a ranking of 38 this season and has had some notable wins, including quarterfinal runs at Wimbledon in 2022 and the recent Cincinnati Open.
On Friday he was consistent as he had 30 unforced errors to Williams’ 51.
She will face Russian Lyudmila Samsonova in the round of 16. Samsonova defeated Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunik 6-3, 6-3.
CNN’s Matias Grez contributed to this report.