MASON, Ohio — Serena Williams’ farewell tour continues to appear to be a good idea that came into play too late.
Their latest hurrah has been muted so far: big occasions with no fitting content. And when last year’s US Open surprise winner, Emma Raducanu, finished off Williams terribly quickly in a 6-4, 6-0 win on Tuesday night, the sold-out center court at the Western and Southern Opens has often been as quiet as a practice ground since the nearly 12,000 fans in attendance rarely had a chance to cheer for the icon they honored.
For those who remember Williams at her peak, it was painful to watch that first-lap loss as she piled up unforced errors and missed returns early and then, after a brief climb, faded badly with more of the same on the track .
In her prime she was irresistible on serve, losing her opening game of service and losing her last three holds as well, unable to control her shots or her fate, especially when the quick and agile Raducanu put her on the run and Williams now exposed. restricted movement.
Williams’ second serve has been a problem in recent years and it was an even bigger problem on Tuesday. On her second delivery, she only won two out of 16 points: a meager 12.5 percent. And although Williams had long reveled in second serves like Raducanu’s, the 19-year-old British star won 75 per cent of the points on her second serve as Williams struggled to find her timing and sometimes footing.
It was a sign of Williams’ confusion and disappointment that, upon the conclusion of that 65-minute loss, she politely shook hands with Raducanu and quickly left the court with a wave to the crowd, declining an on-court interview with Kondo Simfukwe, who this enabled her to address the public directly in her final game of the tournament.
Last week in Toronto, when Williams lost to Belinda Bencic in the second round of the National Bank Open, the time had come much more fanfare: Williams formally bid farewell to Canada, shedding a few tears and accepting an armful of parting gifts including Maple Leafs and Raptors jerseys with her name and the number 22 on them.
But there would be no Bengals kit outside of Cincinnati on Tuesday, although tournament staff at the Western and Southern Opens were willing to mark the moment with much more pomp and circumstance if Williams had been open to the idea.
Instead, it was left to Raducanu, who had just faced Williams for the first and probably only time, to speak to the moment and pull off one of the pirouettes Williams had long pirouetted to victory.
“Well I think we all just have to honor Serena and her amazing career,” Raducanu said. “I’m so grateful for the experience of being able to play her and for the intersection of our careers. Everything she has achieved is so inspiring and yes it has been a true honor to share this space with her.”
Raducanu wasn’t born when Williams won her first Grand Slam singles title at the age of 17 at the 1999 US Open, but like so many of her generation, Raducanu grew up with Williams dominating the landscape.
“When you guys cheered her on, I thought – you know what? – all for it,” Raducanu said to the crowd.
Raducanus Breakthrough win in New York Last year was a much bigger shock than Williams’ triumph in 1999. Raducanu was an unseeded qualifier and is the only qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title. She struggled to follow up on that bravura performance, not reaching a final at any other tour event. But her poise, precision, flowing footwork and superbly crafted serves on Tuesday were a throwback to last September at Flushing Meadows, even if she felt a lot more shaky than she looked.
“To be honest, I was nervous from the first point to the last,” said Raducanu. “I know what a champion she is. She can come back from any situation. I just had to stay focused. I’m just so glad I managed to keep my composure.”
Williams’ struggles in the twilight are certainly understandable. She turns 41 next month and has been a pro since she was 14. The years are taking their toll, even with a limited schedule and phenomenal talent. Williams, who missed a year of action after tearing a hamstring at Wimbledon in 2021, has only played four singles games in the last 14 months and she took to the pitch to confront Raducanu with a long strip of duct tape running down her outside left thigh, probably to support her left knee.
This much-anticipated match between the greatest player of the era and one of football’s brightest young talents was originally scheduled for Monday night, but it was postponed by one day at Williams’ request to give her more time to recover from knee pain, according to people who are aware of the situation but not authorized to speak about it.
It was a new day in women’s tennis on Tuesday: Naomi Osaka, once world No. 1, continued to fight in 2022, losing 6-4, 7-5 in the first round to Zhang Shuai of China. Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who reached the final of the French Open earlier this year, rolled an ankle late in the first set of her opening-round match against Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, and was eliminated 5-7, 0- 1.
But the main event was clearly Williams vs. Raducanu, and Williams took to the court after warming up earlier in the day on Court 16 in front of a large and supportive crowd, with fans peering down from nearby show courts to catch a glimpse of Williams personally, maybe for the last time. Some of them had already seen William’s older sister Venus lose to No. 14 Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-1 in their first-round match on Center Court.
It was another poignant day for the Williams sisters and another brief stint at a tournament they had previously settled into. On Wednesday, 10th-seeded Raducanu, not unseeded Serena Williams, meets former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the second round.
Serena Williams is likely to return to the practice court and physical therapy to try to get sharper and healthier before playing in New York, although it now seems far-fetched that she’ll find enough form to run away the US Openwhich begins August 29 and will likely be the last of their hurrah.