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 exited the Western and Southern Open with a poor performance in her opening round. Emma Radukanu 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, peeking out from Stadium Court to catch a glimpse of the American great before his 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’ absence from the tour for a year after last year’s Wimbledon has proved too long for her to regain her best form.
Williams opened 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 promptly fell down a break. It set the tone for a poor performance towards the end, as she once again struggled to establish any time on her ground, and her mobility was significantly reduced meaning she was a sitting duck whenever Radukanu took control.
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, Radukan played flawlessly. 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’m just trying to make the most of every point out there and give myself the best memories of when I played with Serena once.”
Despite his joy, Raducanu responded to his victory with much less celebration, not even clenching a fist when Williams’ forehand flew long. “To be honest, I was in awe. I think ‘come on’ to 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 playing with her and beyond 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 faces a cruel twist as the pair face each other in the second match on Center Court, despite Radukanu’s latter decision as she also played doubles with Elena Rybakina on Wednesday.
“Obviously over the last year I’ve been getting great exposure to these great players and every time you play them, you learn from them and what they’re doing has helped them in their careers,” she said. “Yeah, it’s going to be a tough match tomorrow, for sure.”