NEW YORK — The Serena Williams Show continues Friday night with soaring ticket prices and an opponent hoping to channel Novak Djokovic’s attitude toward a hostile crowd.
According to secondary market retailer Tickpick, the “get-in” price for Williams’ third-round match against Ajla Tomljanovic was $565 as of Thursday afternoon, an increase of 90% since July. The cheapest lower-level seat was $4,361, Tickpick said.
It’s the afterglow of Williams' victory Wednesday over second-seeded Anett Kontaveit, a thriller that provided legitimacy, however still far-fetched this early in the tournament, to the idea of Williams capping her retirement tour with raised arms.
Tomljanovic, a 29-year-old from Croatia, hopes to serve as the spoiler and understands the 20,000 fans at Ashe will root for her downfall. The pro-Serena environment was brutal Wednesday for Kontaveit, who heard the stadium cheer her service faults and errors, then go silent after her winners.
“Yeah, I mean, it was hard,” Kontaveit said.
It’s uncharted territory for Tomljanovic, who has never advanced past the third round of the Open in her eight previous appearances. To deal with the crowd, Tomljanovic said she may employ a tactic relayed by Djokovic, the three-time Open champion who isn’t as popular as counterparts Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
“I remember Novak saying one time when they asked him a lot about this, when the crowd was against him, he just pretends it’s for him,” Tomljanovic said. “When they chant ‘Rafa,’ ‘Roger,’ or whoever, he just hears, ‘Novak.’ I kind of liked that response. I might use that on Friday night.”
Victoria Azarenka, who twice faced Williams in the final of the Open, said the key is to accept fans are simply happy for the American favorite, rather than angry that somebody else is winning.
“I understand why the fans are coming here. It’s not like, ‘OK, they are against me, they don’t like me.’ I don’t take it personally,” Azarenka said. “I believe that (Williams) is such a big magnitude of tennis, and so much force, that there is no doubt that people are going to be supporting her in New York.”
Part of the celebration of Williams is the giant void she’ll leave in American tennis, without any realistic successors to the top tier of women’s tennis. It was underscored Thursday with the quick defeat of Sloane Stephens, the 29-year-old American and 2017 Open champ who has fallen so far from the top she wasn’t even requested for a media interview after losing to No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Williams is the only American remaining in the tournament with a Grand Slam championship, men or women. She’s also has the attention of the nation.
Over 30 years ago, the swan song of another tennis great, Jimmy Connors, captivated the Open and provided Flushing its most dramatic moments. Connors was 39 during that 1991 tournament, one year younger than Williams, and improbably advanced to the semifinals.
Williams gets a chance to do the same, perhaps better, with the crowd on her side.
“I cannot think that far. I’m here, like I said. I’m having fun and I’m enjoying it,” Williams said. “Honestly, I’ve had so many tough matches the last I don’t know how long that I just feel like just being prepared for everyone that I play is just going to be really, really difficult. Get through those moments.”