Serena Williams won her first U.S. Open title in 1999, nearly two years before Caty McNally was born.
In the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday night, Williams had to stave off the 17-year-old 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 to keep her run in New York City alive.
McNally took the first set 7-5. In her first year participating in the tournament, she kept her cool and used her opponent's unfamiliarity with her to her advantage. Williams was clearly frustrated with her unforced errors:
Williams bounced back to claim the second set 6-3, forced a third set and flaunted her 23-time Grand Slam champion chops in the process:
The 37-year-old's pedigree came through in the third set, and she cruised in a way most expected her to from the start. Following the match, Williams credited McNally for giving her all she could handle.
"I think she really came out and played really well," Williams told Rennae Stubbs on the ESPN broadcast. "She showed no fear. I mean, she had absolutely nothing to lose so she played like it."
When Stubbs mentioned McNally's serving and volleying, Williams added, "I don't see it so much on the tour, especially at this age. It's actually refreshing, and it's a different game. I don't get to play against players like that too often."
Williams' parting words were to reiterate she was not pleased with her play regardless of the outcome:
McNally was facing long odds, as Williams has only lost to three teenagers at Grand Slams and never at the U.S. Open, according to WTA Insider. The three losses came against Venus Williams (1998 Australian Open), Maria Sharapova (2004 Wimbledon) and Sloane Stephens (2013 Australian Open).
Even so, McNally's dominant first set gave off the same vibes present when 15-year-old Coco Gauff upset Venus in the first round of Wimbledon in July. (Coincidentally, Gauff is McNally's U.S. Open doubles partner.)
McNally entered her second-round match against Williams having beaten Timea Bacsinszky 6-4, 6-1. Though Williams also won in straight sets (6-1, 6-1), her first round was more eventful because of the hype surrounding her longstanding rivalry with Sharapova despite Williams winning their last 19 matchups.
Given how sloppily Williams began against McNally, there was early concern that she had expended too much energy against Sharapova. That was extinguished midway through the second set when Williams started to settle in and take command.
Williams awaits the winner of Karolina Muchova and Su-Wei Hsieh in the third round.