Emma Raducanu turned in a poised and focused performance to rout Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, 6-4 6-0, in just 65 minutes, silencing the crowd at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Tuesday night.
I think from the beginning to the end, I maybe looked calm, but I just knew how important every single point was, because you let up a little bit, and she's going to be all over you. She's just such a legend. Emma Raducanu
“The atmosphere tonight was amazing,” Raducanu said on court. “To play with Serena, even when you guys were cheering for her, I was all for it… [laughing].
“To be honest, I was nervous from the first point to the last point, because I know what a champion she is.
“She can come back from any situation, so I really had to stay focused. I’m just so pleased that I was able to keep my composure.”
There had been a lot of hype and expectation leading up to the encounter, and dismay for Monday’s fans who had paid to see the match, only to find out it had been postponed until Tuesday.
Williams announced last week in Toronto that she is ‘evolving away from tennis’, shying away from actually stating she plans to retire after the US Open to pursue her business interests and add to her family.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” Willams wrote in Vogue. “I don’t think it’s fair.
“If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”
The American has hardly played over the past year, though, because of a thigh injury suffered at Wimbledon 2021, and only returned to the match court for doubles at Eastbourne before losing in the singles in the 1st-round at The Championships and in the 2nd-round in Toronto.
Raducanu knew what she was in for, with Williams making her last appearance in Cincy in front of a partisan crowd, and this was the American’s night.
On this day, though, it was the 19-year-old who proved to be the better, quicker and stronger player, dispatching the former World No 1 in their first meeting and, while the fans gave Williams a huge round of applause, the 40-year-old left the court swiftly, without speaking to television reporters, and did not hold a press conference afterwards.
“Well, I think we all need to just honour Serena and her amazing career,” said Raducanu on the court.
“I’m so grateful for the experience of being able to play her, and for our careers to have crossed over, and everything that she has achieved is so inspirational.
“And, yeah, it was a true honour to share the court with her.”
Raducanu hit 14 winners and made just a single unforced error, converting 5 of her 9 break chances, while Williams broke the British No 1 just once in the first set.
With the loss, Williams fell to 1-3 in 2022, and will now have about 10 days before the start of the US Open on 29 August in what is expected to be her final tournament.
The Open sold 16,500 tickets the day Williams announced her retirement, and she will be honoured by huge crowds during her time in New York.
In Cincy, Raducanu announced her intentions from the start with a break to love of the Williams serve, and never let up, improving to 14 wins against the 17 defeats she has endured since winning the Open last September as a qualifier.
The No 10 seed never allowed the American to settle into the match, taking a 4-1 lead in the opening set, and completely sweeping the second, advancing on her first match point with an un-returnable serve.
“I think it’s important to really cherish the wins, because, I think, that if anything, this year has taught me that the wins don’t come by easily,” said Raducanu, who will play another former World No 1 in Victoria Azarenka next. “No matter what win that is, it means a lot to any athlete, and I definitely am going to take it in, be really proud of myself.
“But it is a fast turnover tomorrow, and I probably have got 12 hours until I’m back on site.
“I’m playing another Slam champion tomorrow, so it’s obviously going to be really difficult. Just going to try to prepare as best as possible.”
That Raducanu relishes the big occasions is abundantly clear as she turned in a near flawless performance, committing a single unforced error in the opening set compared to a dozen from Williams.
She ran down every ball, kept changing directions with it, and forced Williams to move, striking the ball aggressively and playing with plenty of margin.
While the teenager could do no wrong, 40-year-old Williams struggled to find her rhythm, but the American improved from 1-4 down, finding some semblance of her range off the ground, and eventually firing 7 aces, but it wasn’t enough to dull Raducanu’s strategy, and the errors eventually leaked from her racket.
By the end of the match Raducanu was playing with the same form that took her to the title in New York last year.
“I think from the beginning to the end, I maybe looked calm, but I just knew how important every single point was, because you let up a little bit, and she’s going to be all over you,” Raducanu told reporters later. “She’s just such a legend.”
Next up for Raducanu is Azarenka.
“I remember more recently, when she was playing in the US Open and made the final in 2020 during the bubble, I was studying for my exams,” she said. “I hadn’t played tennis in like two, three months, and I was kind of just dreaming that one day I’m going to play on Ashe, and one day I’m going to be at that level and playing these great players myself.
“Everything felt so far away.”
At the end of the month she returns to the stage where her fairy-tale story began last year, and it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the British No 1 since.
Raducanu had been competing on the WTA Tour for just 3 months when she stunned the world with her remarkable and unexpected US Open run, which saw her skyrocket more than 300 places in the world rankings, earning 2,040 points for passing the qualifying stages and going on to win the title.
She now faces with a huge dip as those points drop of, particularly if she is knocked out of this year’s US Open during the early stages.
“If I lose 2,000 points, so be it, I’ll start again from the bottom,” Raducanu said at a recent press conference. “I know I can do something that no one else has done.
“I qualified and won the US Open, so I can start from the beginning, I can start from zero and I’m not afraid of that.”
The World No 10 admits the pressure put on her after Flushing Meadows is ‘a joke’, and stresses the fact she is still just 19 years of age.
“I literally won a Slam. Yes, I have had attention. But I’m a Slam champion, so no one’s going to take that away from me.
“[Pressure] is only either what I put on myself or what I expect from myself,” Raducanu added. “I only feel the pressure, or think about it whenever I’m in my press conferences, because every single question is about pressure!
“I’m really looking forward to just going back [to New York] and, whatever happens, I think that it’s going to be a nice close to a chapter, go full circle.
“Regardless of whatever the result is, I can just start again, clean slate… fresh start.”