In the face of all-time greatness and unprecedented longevity spanning 27 remarkable years, time is not defeated, and it will eventually catch up with us all. With each passing day, the end of Serena Williams’ professional tennis career draws dangerously close, and the chances of a final, spectacular finish fade.
In the final of her best career, Williams lost her opening round match from the Western and Southern Open in a flawless 6–4, 6–0 performance. Emma Raduganu One who does not put his foot regularly.
“It’s amazing to be honest. I can’t believe I’m playing Serena Williams,” Raducanu said later.
After an unwelcome one-day delay, Williams and Raducanu finally arrived on Tuesday evening with a tightly packed crowd lining the court, peering out from the overlooking Stadium Court to watch the American greats before her match. When Williams arrived on the court, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
It was a war of distant generations, with 21 years separating Williams, 40, from Raduganu, 19. But after a career characterized by countless relapses, Williams’ one-year absence from the tour after last year’s Wimbledon has proved too long for her to regain her best form.
Williams began the match with a terrible opening service game, hitting four errors in a row and losing the first five points of the match as she immediately fell down a break. It set the tone for a poor performance towards the end.
After a year in the spotlight following his US Open triumph, it was a rare opportunity for Raduganu, once again, to have all cameras and eyes across the net focused on his opponent.
With no expectations or inhibitions, Radukanu delivered a flawless performance. She soaked up Williams’ first strikes, patiently tested her opponent’s shot endurance in extended rallies and attacked without hesitation whenever the ball fell short, revealing Williams’s extremely limited mobility. He finished the match with 14 winners and one unforced error.
“[This] This might be one of my last chances to act with him,” he said. “You have to cherish this moment, you’re going to have this memory for the rest of your life. I was trying to make the most of every point out there and give myself the best memories of when I played with Serena once.
Despite her joy, Raducanu responded to her victory with much less celebration, even clenching a fist when Williams’ forehand flew long. “To be honest, I was in awe. I think I’m a ‘come on’ in the tournament, I said to myself because I respect her so much as an athlete, as a tennis player, as a person,” she said.
Last week in Toronto, a day after Williams announced that the countdown to the end of her career had begun, she was defeated in straight sets by Belinda Bencic. After the defeat, he stayed for a rare loser’s court interview and choked back tears as he bid farewell to Canada.
This time, there was no ceremony or silver foil, although organizers paraded champagne through the court. Williams packed her bags and left in a flash, her disappointment evident. Since then he has not attended his post-match press conference.
Williams has just one match left in her career, and it’s a far cry from how she envisioned the outcome. She will now head to the US Open, and having only won one of her three singles matches, her final match will be a maddening wait.
“I think we should all honor Serena and her amazing career,” Raducanu said. “I’m so grateful for this experience of playing with her and going through our careers. Everything she has accomplished is inspiring and it is a true honor to share the court with her.
For Raduganu, the unlikely opportunity to face a player who was already famous before her existence turned out to be a dream come true. She could always say she walked away with a win after staring down Serena Williams on the court.
For her efforts, Raducanu faces another of the most successful players of the next decade in the second round, as former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka awaits. Radukanu also faces a cruel turn of events as she plays doubles with Elina Rybakina on Wednesday and the pair face each other in the second match on Center Court after Radukanu’s latter decision.
“Obviously over the last year, these great players have gotten great exposure and every time you play them, you learn from them and what they do helps them in their careers,” she said. “Yeah, it’s going to be a tough match tomorrow, for sure.”