MASON, Ohio — Serena Williams’ farewell tour resumes Tuesday at the Western and Southern Open.
But how long?
The matchup – Williams vs. Emma Raducanu of Great Britain in the opening round – seems particularly well suited to the big occasion that is Williams’ extended retirement from professional tennis.
With 23 Grand Slam singles titles, she is undoubtedly the greatest tennis player of this era and one of the greatest athletes of all time. Raducanu, a cosmopolitan 19-year-old, shocked the world (and herself) with it Won last year’s US Open as a qualifier and has the intelligence and punches to be one of the game’s leaders if she can adjust to her new status and once again beat forehand winners and win games in a row.
The two champions at opposite ends of their careers have never played each other and Raducanu is one of several young stars on the WTA Tour who have been hoping for a chance to take on Williams before she bid farewell to the sport she has long dominated Has. She wrote in VogueShe released last week that the US Open, which begins August 29 in New York, would be her last.
But the question is whether William’s body (she turns 41 on September 26) can make it to her self-imposed finish line. Her match with Raducanu was originally slated for Monday night with much fanfare, with the tournament releasing a statement and informing fans on site for the qualifying rounds that Williams would be playing outside of Cincinnati that opening night.
But after tickets, presumably quite a few, were bought with Williams in mind, the late Monday-Tuesday match was kicked out of the tournament with a vague explanation. “Due to a number of factors surrounding the scheduling, the game between Serena Williams and Emma Raducanu will now take place on Tuesday,” the tournament said when announcing Monday’s schedule.
People who had been briefed on the situation but declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on the matter said the postponement was due to physical issues with Williams, who suffered from chronic hamstringitis during her career and missed a year of competition after tearing her right hamstring at Wimbledon in 2021.
There was no confirmation of injury concerns from Williams or from tournament officials. Williams trained on Sunday and Monday, and the game remains on the Tuesday night schedule. But Williams, if she wins, would have to play back-to-back days as long as she stays in the tournament. With the US Open in her sights, she clearly won’t want to take any undue risks that could jeopardize her moment in Queens.
The US Open is her main goal as Eric Hechtman, her new coachhe clarified in an interview last week in Toronto, where Williams lost in straight sets to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the second round of the National Bank Open.
It was the third singles match of Williams’ last and certainly last comeback after one Loss in the opening round to Harmony Tanan unseeded French, at Wimbledon in June and a first-round win in Toronto over Spain’s Nuria Parrizas-Diaz.
“We had Wimbledon and now we have to build Toronto and Cincinnati for New York,” Hechtman said after the Bencic defeat. “I would say Serena has played better in every match and obviously there are things out there that she could do better, but I thought her opponent played really well tonight. What we’re going to do is take the positive and improve tomorrow. She’s a champion and we’re going to get better every day, not just every game but every day and hopefully by Cincinnati we can make some improvements.
Hechtman, a 38-year-old club pro who played at the University of Miami, has been coaching Venus Williams, Serena’s older sister, since 2019 and began coaching Serena Williams earlier this year after she split from her longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Venus and Serena shared the same trainers, their father Richard and mother Oracene Price, for years, and Florida-based trainer Rick Macci during the sisters’ formative years.
Working with Hechtman sort of comes full circle, although he generally trains with them separately to give them individual direction.
“I feel blessed and grateful to be in this situation,” he said. “It just worked out and I just hope I do them justice and help them move on as much as I can.”
Venus Williams, 42, who has yet to announce a timeline for her own retirement, was handed a wild card to the Western and Southern Open and enjoyed a disheartening first-round match on the stadium’s main square against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, a former world No .1, on Tuesday.
“Venus will do what she wants, when she wants it,” Hechtman said of her exit from the game. “She could play five more years. Who knows?”
But her younger sister has made her intentions much clearer.
“Emotions are running high,” Hechtman said. “Every athlete faces that time at some point and I think it’s good that Serena did it the way she did. I found her first person essay amazing and it shows a lot about who she is but also how intelligent she is. We still have a few tournaments to go and hopefully we can use that as one of her most important weapons: not just her tennis, but her intelligence and how she uses it on the court.”
The power gap that long separated Serena Williams from the chasing pack has been closed. Her successors on the tour are thriving at a rapid pace, from this year’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina to rising Americans Coco Gauff and Amanda Anisimova. It’s harder to overwhelm this generation, in part because Williams has set a new standard.
But Williams still has an aura, especially among those who have watched her from afar.
“When I look at them, I suddenly forget that I’m standing here as world No. 1,” said Iga Swiatek, the 21-year-old Pole who wasn’t even born when Williams won her first major title in the 1999 US Open. “I see Serena and it’s ‘Wow, Serena!’ You know? And I feel like a kid from kindergarten just looking at them. So it’s tough. I haven’t spoken to her, but I’m just trying to say hello.”
And although Williams isn’t as mobile at the age of 40, she can still pick up points in a variety of ways, including successfully using drop shots in Toronto and using her still-impressive first serve to secure quick points or winners of the set up next shot.
“I think she serves well,” Hechtman said. “The pace is there on serve as it has always been in her career. She’s improved since Wimbledon and I think she’s definitely hitting the ball cleaner and I’d say the movement has improved. So it’s good on all those fronts.”
The intention is to have a better and more complete preparation going to New York than after Wimbledon, where she only played two doubles matches with Ons Jabeur before facing Tan at a tournament in Eastbourne, England.
“We play more events that are coming,” Hechtman said. “So I think that’s useful and what we need to do. It’s like warming up for a match, right? You don’t just start the game cold. You have to get the rhythm and she gets her rhythm the more matches she plays.”
When she’s ready, she’ll play at least one in Mason, Ohio.