Why Serena Williams’s Early Exit From Cincinnati Is a Good Thing

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As the great tennis sage Charles Barkley memorably said years ago, “We’re here for a good time, not for a long time.” And so it was with Serena Williams’s match on Tuesday night at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open against Emma Raducanu, where she bowed out 6-4, 6-0 in an hour and five minutes.

It was as much of a marquee matchup as any first-round battle between a 10th-seeded player and an unseeded player at what’s essentially a warm-up to the U.S. Open could ever be: On the one side Serena, a global sports legend and 23 times a Grand Slam champion; on the other Raducanu, a virtual unknown before storming through both the qualifying rounds and the main draw to take home the trophy at last year’s U.S. Open. But while the first set of this first match between the two was mostly competitive, with Serena leaning into her booming serve and punishing groundstrokes, the second set was all Raducanu, who committed exactly zero unforced errors in that set (and only one in the first).

That said, in an odd way this might be the best result Serena could ask for. She’s been on a farewell tour, if an abbreviated one (before Cincinnati, she won her first-round match in Toronto before going out in the second), and seems to be nursing a sore leg; had she kept winning, she would have had to play again on every single day of the tournament. Given that her real swan song has always been planned for the U.S. Open, an early exit from Cincinnati gives her time to both heal and fine-tune her game for what’s bound to be an epic sendoff in New York.

The day was notable for a couple of other exits: Serena’s big sister Venus also lost, to Karolina Pliskova, and the recent phenomenon known as Coco Gauff, who’s been on a tear, had to retire from her match against Marie Bouzkova after rolling her ankle. But let’s not kid ourselves: We’ve been watching these last two tournaments to chase history and to witness a legend in action.

Maybe Raducanu, in her post-match comments, summed up the spirit of the evening best. Did she savor the hard-fought victory? Was she looking forward to her next opponent? Maybe—but that’s not what was top of mind: “I can’t believe I just played Serena Williams,” she said, seemingly in awe.

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