Serena Williams bows out in Cincinnati as Emma Raducanu shows no mercy | Serena Williams

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Even in the face of unprecedented greatness and unprecedented longevity that has lasted a remarkable 27 years, time is unbeaten and it will eventually come for all of us. With each passing day, the end of Serena Williams’ professional tennis career is approaching alarmingly and the chances of a final, spectacular result are fading.

In what is likely the penultimate tournament of her big career, Williams pulled out of the Western & Southern Open in her opening match with a dismal performance, losing emphatically 6-4, 6-0 against a flawless. Emma Raducanu who was right from start to finish.

“It’s pretty amazing, to be honest. I can’t believe I just played Serena Williams,” Raducanu said afterwards.

After an unwelcome day-long delay, Williams and Raducanu finally arrived on Tuesday evening with tight crowds lining the pitch and peeking from the pitch overlooking the stadium to catch a glimpse of the tall American ahead of her game. When Williams arrived at the stadium, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

It was a battle of generations past with 21 years separating Williams, 40, from Raducanu, 19. But after a career characterized by countless comebacks, Williams’ one-year absence from the tour after Wimbledon last year has so far proved too long for her to regain her best form.

Williams opened the game with an abysmal opening service game, making four errors in a row and dropping the game’s first five points as she immediately fell into a break. It set the tone for a disastrous performance to the end as she once again struggled desperately to establish timing on her groundstrokes and her greatly diminished movement meant she was a sitting duck whenever Raducanu took control.

After a year of constant attention following his US Open win, for Raducanu it was a rare opportunity as, for once, all cameras and eyes were on his opponent through the net.

Without expectations or inhibitions, Raducanu played a flawless game. She absorbed Williams’ opening strikes, patiently tested her opponent’s shooting tolerance in long rallies and whenever the ball fell short, attacked without hesitation, exposing Williams’ greatly diminished movement. She finished the match with just one unforced error with 14 winners.

“[This] may be one of the last opportunities I have to play her,” she said. “You have to cherish the moment, and you’re going to keep that memory for the rest of your career. I was really trying to make the most of every point and give myself the best memories of the time I played against Serena.

Emma Raducanu applauds Serena Williams outside the court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
Emma Raducanu applauds Serena Williams outside the court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Photography: Robert Prange/Getty Images

Despite his joy, Raducanu reacted to his win with an extremely low-key celebration, barely clenching his fist as Williams’ forehand flew long. “To be honest, I was just in awe. I think I said a ‘come on’ in the game, and I was just like, because I respect her so much as an athlete, as a player of tennis, as a person,” she said.

In Toronto last week, a day after Williams announced the countdown to the end of her career had begun, she was beaten in straight sets by Belinda Bencic. After the loss, she stayed for a rare on-court interview with a loser and barely held back tears as she said goodbye to Canada.

This time, despite the organizers lining up for champagne near the court, there was no ceremony or silver lining. Williams packed up and left in a flash, her frustration obvious to all. She did not attend her post-match press conference afterwards.

There’s only one tournament left in Williams’ career, and it’s far from how she envisioned it ending. She will now head to the US Open, and for the madness that awaits her there in her latest event, having won just one match in her three singles tournaments.

“I think we all have to honor Serena and her amazing career,” Raducanu said. “I am so grateful for this experience of playing her and for our careers to cross paths. Everything she has achieved is inspiring and it was a real honor to share the court with her.

For Raducanu, an unlikely opportunity to face a player who was a Hall of Famer before she even existed ended like a dream. She will always be able to say that she watched Serena Williams on the court and came away with a win.

For her efforts, Raducanu will next face another of the most successful players of the past decade in the second round as former No.1 Victoria Azarenka awaits her. Due to Raducanu also playing doubles alongside Elena Rybakina on Wednesday, she faces a sharp turnaround as the pair face off in the second match on center court despite Raducanu’s later arrival.

“Obviously with the last year that I’ve had I’ve had a lot of exposure to these great players, and every time you play against them you also learn from them and what they really do. good that has helped them in their career,” she says. “Yeah, it’s going to be a tough game tomorrow, that’s for sure.”

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