MASON, Ohio — Serena Williams’ farewell tour continues to seem like a good idea that came too late in the game.
Since Williams announced in Vogue last week that she would soon retire from the sport she once led, she has played two matches and lost both in straight sets.
His last cheers so far have been sotto voce: great occasions without corresponding content. And while Emma Raducanu, last year’s surprise US Open champion, did an awfully quick job on Williams with a 6-4, 6-0 victory on Tuesday night, the sold-out center court of the Western and Southern Open was often as quiet as a training ground as the nearly 12,000 fans in attendance rarely had a chance to cheer on the icon they had come to honor.
For those who remember Williams in her prime, it was painful to watch that first-round loss as she racked up unforced errors and missed comebacks early on, then, after a brief surge, faded considerably over the course of the sequence with more of the same.
Irresistible on serve at her peak, she lost her first service game at love and also lost her last three service games, unable to control her shots or her destiny, especially when the quick and agile Raducanu slapped her. runaway, exposing Williams’s now- limited movement.
Williams’ second serve has been a problem for the past few years, and it was an even bigger problem on Tuesday. She won just two points out of 16 in her second delivery: a paltry 12.5%. And although Williams has long feasted on second serves like Raducanu’s, the 19-year-old British star won 75% of the points on his second serve as Williams struggled to find his timing and sometimes his position.
It was a measure of Williams’ dismay and disappointment that after that 65-minute rout ended, she politely shook Raducanu’s hand and quickly walked off the pitch with a wave to the crowd, refusing an on-court interview with Kondo Simfukwe that reportedly allowed him to address the public directly in his final game of the tournament.
Last week in Toronto, when Williams lost to Belinda Bencic in the second round of the National Bank Open, there was a lot more fanfare: Williams made his official farewell to Canada, shed a few tears and accepted an armful parting gifts, including Maple Leafs and Raptors jerseys with his name and No. 22 on them.
But there would be no Bengals kit on Tuesday outside of Cincinnati, though Western and Southern Open tournament staff were prepared to mark the moment with far more pomp and circumstance had Williams been open to the idea.
Instead, it was left to Raducanu, who had just faced Williams for the first and probably only time, to talk about the moment and perform one of the spins Williams has long displayed in victory.
“Well, I think we all have to honor Serena and her amazing career,” Raducanu said. “I’m so grateful to have been able to play with her and that our careers have crossed. Everything she has achieved is so inspiring, and yes, it has been a real honor to share this ground with her.
Raducanu was not yet born when Williams won her first Grand Slam singles title aged 17 at the 1999 US Open, but like so many of her generation, Raducanu grew up with Williams dominating the landscape.
“When you were cheering him on, I was like – you know what? – all for it,” Raducanu told the crowd.
Raducanu’s decisive victory in New York last year was far more of a shock than Williams’ triumph in 1999. Raducanu was an unranked qualifier and is the only qualifier to have won a Grand Slam singles title. She struggled to follow up on this brave performance, failing to reach a final in any other event on the tour. But her balance, precision, fluid footwork and superbly sliced serves on Tuesday were a flashback to last September at Flushing Meadows, even though she felt much more fragile than she looked.
“To be honest, I was nervous from the first to the last point,” Raducanu said. “I know what a champion she is. She can come back from any situation. I just had to stay focused. I’m so glad I managed to keep my composure.
Williams’ struggles at dusk are certainly understandable. She turns 41 next month and has been a professional since she was 14. The years, even with a limited schedule and phenomenal talent, take their toll. Williams, who missed a year of action after tearing her hamstring at Wimbledon in 2021, has only played four singles matches in the last 14 months, and she went to court to face Raducanu with a long strip of tape running down the outside of her. left thigh, likely to support his left knee.
The highly anticipated match between the greatest player of that era and one of the game’s brightest young talents was originally scheduled for Monday night but was delayed a day at Williams’ request in order to give her, people say. informed about the situation but not allowed to talk about it, more time to recover from knee pain.
It was a hot day in women’s tennis on Tuesday: Once-world No. 1 Naomi Osaka continued to struggle in 2022, losing in the first round 6-4, 7-5 to China’s Zhang Shuai. Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who reached the French Open final earlier this year, rolled her ankle late in the first set of her first-round match with Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and retired, 5-7, 0 -1.
But the main event was clearly Williams v Raducanu, and Williams took to the court after warming up to a large, supportive crowd earlier today on Court 16, with fans watching from nearby show courts to have a chance to get a glimpse. of Williams himself, perhaps for the last time. Some of them had already seen Williams’ older sister Venus lose 7-5, 6-1 on center court to No. 14 seed Karolina Pliskova in their first-round match.
It was another poignant day for the Williams sisters and another short stint in a tournament where they were settling in longer. On Wednesday, 10th-seeded Raducanu, not unseeded Serena Williams, will face former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the second round.
Serena Williams will likely return to the training ground and physical therapy to try to get sharper and healthier before playing in New York, although it now seems a long way off that she could find enough form to make a run at the US Open, which begins August 29 and will likely be the last of his cheers.