Even in the face of all-time greatness and unprecedented longevity spanning 27 remarkable years, time is undefeated and it will eventually come for us all. With each passing day, the end of Serena Williams’ professional tennis career draws alarmingly closer, and the chances of a final, spectacular result diminish.
In what is likely to be the penultimate tournament of her major career, Williams bowed out of the Western and Southern Open in her opening-round match with a dismal performance, losing emphatically 6-4, 6-0 to an unblemished Emma Raducanu put a foot wrong all the way.
“I think we all need to honor Serena and her amazing career,” Raducanu said. “I’m so grateful for this experience of playing her and for our careers to have crossed over. Everything she achieved is inspiring and it was a true honor to share the track with her.”
After an unwanted one-day delay, Williams and Raducanu finally arrived on Tuesday evening with packed crowds lining the ground and peering out from the stadium court overlooking the American great before her match. When Williams arrived at the stadium, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
This was a battle of distant generations with 21 years separating 40-year-old Williams from 19-year-old Raducanu. But after a career marked by countless comebacks, Williams’ one-year absence from the tour after last year’s Wimbledon has so far proved too long for her to regain her best form. She once again struggled desperately to establish any timing on strikes, and her falling defense was easy to pick apart.
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 when she immediately fell down a break. That set the tone for the rest of the short meeting.
After a year of constant attention following her US Open victory, this was a rare opportunity for Raducanu as for once all cameras were on her opponent and all eyes were on the net.
Without expectations or inhibitions, Raducanu played a flawless match. She soaked up Williams’ first shot, she patiently tested Williams’ shot tolerance in extended rallies, and whenever the ball fell short, Raducanu attacked without hesitation, exposing Williams’ greatly reduced movement. She finished the match with just a single unforced error along with 14 winners.
After going down 1-4 in the opening set with Raducanu leading by two breaks, Williams finally started to connect with her forehand. In two short games, she was a vision of her old self, obliterating winners behind the baseline. But Raducanu patiently navigated the brief storm and she remained extremely solid throughout.
Until the end, she gave nothing, held out the opening set and then broke through the rest of the match. She didn’t show a flicker of mercy – at 4-0, break point, she hit a backhand return winner to seal the final break before ending the match with a bagel.
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 loss, she remained for a rare loser’s on-court interview and barely held back tears as she said goodbye to Canada.
This time, despite the organizers setting champagne at the track, there was no ceremony or silver lining. Williams packed her bags and left in a flash, her frustration clear for all to see. Only one tournament remains in Williams’ career, and this is far from how she envisioned it ending. She now heads to the US Open, and for the craziness that awaits her there in her final event, having won just one singles match in her last three tournaments.
For Raducanu, an unlikely opportunity to meet a player whose greatness precedes her existence on this planet ended up being a dream. She will always be able to say she stared down Serena Williams on the court and left with a win. For her efforts, Raducanu will face another of the most successful players of the past decade in the second round as former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka awaits.