Serena Williams knew that defeat was a possibility against Emma Raducanu at the Cincinnati Open. But she would never have anticipated it to be as brutal as this.
The 19-year-old US Open champion swept the retiring Williams aside in an hour and five minutes, winning 6-4, 6-0 in a merciless and composed display. It was one of the best performances Raducanu has produced since winning the US Open last year.
There were no words of goodbye or tears on the court in the aftermath from Williams, unlike in Toronto last week when she lost to Belinda Bencic.
She promptly gathered her things and walked off court with a wave to the crowd that were still cheering her on as if she had won, refusing an on court interview.
Williams struggled to find her rhythm – her backhand often let her down and handed easy points to Raducanu. Her serving wasn’t great either and she roared in fury on one occasion in the first set when another double-fault gave Raducanu a break point.
But there were still flashes of her greatness, the fighting spirit and that sheer, brutal forehand power that has propelled her to 23 fantastic Grand Slam wins.
It was a quick goodbye from Serena Williams in Cincinnati after Emma Raducanu beat her
Raducanu applauded her opponent off after a commanding victory in Cincinnati
The 40-year-old made a quick departure from the court after a ruthless Raducanu defeated her
Raducanu produced one of her best displays of the year to defeat Williams 6-4, 6-0
The crowd were right behind Williams but they could not cheer her to victory on Tuesday
At 4-1 down in the first set and 40-15 behind, Williams dominated the next few points on her forehand alone and simultaneously whipped the crowd into a frenzy as she took the game.
But it was here that Raducanu responded so well. Her shot selection was clever, her own forehand was good too and she responded to being broken – and Williams then holding with some powerful serving – by holding to love.
Raducanu never allowed Williams, or the crowd, to build momentum throughout the match. She hit 14 winners with just one unforced error.
‘I didn’t actually know that stat. I think we all need to honor Serena and her amazing career,’ Raducanu said afterwards. ‘I am so grateful for the experience to have played her and for our careers to have crossed over. It was an honor to share the court with her.
‘The atmosphere tonight was amazing. Even when you guys (the crowd) were cheering for her, I was all for it!
‘I was nervous form the first point to the last point, she can come back from anything and I was pleased I was able to keep my composure.’
But if Raducanu actually felt nervous, nobody could tell. This was a laser-focused performance from the 19-year-old who looked in the zone from the moment she crossed paths with Williams in the hallway outside the locker rooms.
For the UK-based tennis fans, think of this as Wimbledon in reverse. The crowd was absolutely united behind Serena, like Raducanu said – with every point she won cheered for as if it had won her a game or a set.
‘Serena the GOAT’ and ‘Long live the Queen’ read the signs that were waved aloft when Williams was announced and walked onto court.
Maybe that suited Raducanu. There haven’t been many times since she won the US Open where she hasn’t been center of attention but here, against Williams, she was just that. It’s a confidence boosting victory for her as she gears up to defend her title.
So it’s one last dance for Williams, at the US Open, although fans do hang onto the fact she hasn’t explicitly said Flushing Meadows will be her final tournament. Williams is 0-2 since announcing that she will retire.
‘Tonight was a match in my eyes, to be able to play the greatest of all time – who knows how many more opportunities we will get to share the court,’ Raducanu added.
‘I think it’s amazing how our careers have overlapped and I was thinking to myself “this is a complete gift, you are sharing the court with the best of all time. Make the most out of it, in the rest of your career you’re going to remember playing Serena Williams.”‘
Next up for Raducanu is a matchup against another former world No. 1 player, Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka.
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