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For Serena Williams, One other Warmup Before the Grand Finale


MASON, Ohio — The Serena Williams farewell tour is about to proceed Tuesday on the Western and Southern Open.

But for the way long?

The matchup — Williams vs. Emma Raducanu of Britain within the opening round — seems particularly well suited to the grand occasion that’s Williams’s prolonged goodbye from skilled tennis.

With 23 Grand Slam singles titles, she is certainly the best women’s tennis player of this era and one among the best athletes of any era. Raducanu, a cosmopolitan 19-year-old, shocked the world (and herself) by winning last 12 months’s U.S. Open as a qualifier, and has the smarts and strokes to be one among the leaders of the sport if she will adjust to her recent status and resume smacking forehand winners and winning matches by the bunch.

The 2 champions at opposite ends of their careers have never played one another, and Raducanu is one among several young stars on the WTA Tour who’ve been hoping for a likelihood to face Williams before she walks away from the game she long dominated. She wrote in Vogue, published last week, that the U.S. Open, which begins on Aug. 29 in Recent York, could be her last.

However the query is whether or not Williams’s body (she turns 41 on Sept. 26) could make it to her self-imposed finish line. Her match with Raducanu was originally scheduled, with great fanfare, for Monday night, with the tournament releasing a press release and informing fans on site for the qualifying rounds that Williams could be playing in that opening-night slot outside Cincinnati.

But after tickets, presumably quite a lot of them, were purchased with Williams in mind, the match was bumped late on Monday to Tuesday with a vague explanation from the tournament. “On account of a lot of aspects related to scheduling, the Serena Williams-Emma Raducanu match will now be held on Tuesday,” the tournament said in announcing the Monday schedule.

Individuals who had been informed concerning the situation but who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to talk on the matter, said the postponement was due to physical problems with Williams, who has had chronic knee tendinitis during her profession and missed a 12 months 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 practiced on Sunday and Monday, and the match stays on the Tuesday night schedule. But Williams, if she wins, would should play on consecutive days for so long as she stays within the tournament. With the U.S. Open in her sights, she’s going to clearly not need to take undue risks that would jeopardize her moment in Queens.

The U.S. Open is her prime goal as Eric Hechtman, her recent coach, made clear in an interview last week in Toronto, where Williams lost within the second round of the National Bank Open in straight sets to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

It was the third singles match of Williams’s latest and surely last comeback, following an opening-round defeat to Harmony Tan, an unseeded Frenchwoman, at Wimbledon in June and a first-round victory in Toronto over Nuria Parrizas-Diaz of Spain.

“We had Wimbledon, and now we’ve Toronto and Cincinnati to accumulate for Recent York,” Hechtman said after the loss to Bencic. “I’d say Serena’s played higher in each match, and clearly there are things she could do higher on the market, but I believed her opponent played very well tonight. What we’re going to do is take the positives and improve tomorrow. She’s a champion, and we’re going to maintain recovering each day, not only every match, but each day and hopefully we will make some improvements by Cincinnati.”

Hechtman, a 38-year-old club skilled who played on the University of Miami, has coached Venus Williams, Serena’ s older sister, since 2019 and commenced coaching Serena Williams earlier this 12 months after she split along with her longtime coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

For years, Venus and Serena shared the identical coaches, their father Richard and mother Oracene Price, and within the sisters’ developmental years, the Florida-based coach Rick Macci.

Working with Hechtman brings them, in a way, full circle even when he generally trains with them individually to provide them individualized instruction.

“I feel blessed and thankful that I’m in this case,” he said. “It just fell into place, and I just hope I do them justice and help them as much as I can to go forward.”

Venus Williams, 42, who has yet to announce any timetable for her own retirement, received a wild card into the Western and Southern Open and has a frightening first-round match on the principal stadium court against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, a former world No. 1, on Tuesday.

“Venus will do it how she desires to it when she desires to do it,” Hechtman said of her leaving the sport. “She could play for five more years. Who knows?”

But her younger sister has made her intentions much clearer.

“Emotions are high,” Hechtman said. “Every athlete faces this time sooner or later, and I feel it’s good Serena did it the best way she did it. I believed her first-person essay was unbelievable, and it shows rather a lot about how she is but additionally how intelligent she is. We’ve got a few tournaments left and hopefully we will use that as one among her major weapons: not only her tennis but her brain power and the way she uses it on court.”

The facility gap that long separated Serena Williams from the chase pack has been closed. Her successors on tour thrive on torrid pace, from this 12 months’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina to the rising Americans Coco Gauff and Amanda Anisimova. It’s harder to overwhelm this generation, partly because Williams set a recent standard.

But Williams still has aura, particularly with those that grew up watching her from afar.

“After I have a look at her, I suddenly sort of forget that I’m here as world No. 1,” said Iga Swiatek, the Polish 21-year-old who was not even born when Williams won her first major title on the 1999 U.S. Open. “I see Serena and it’s, ‘Wow, Serena!’ You realize? And I feel like I’m a child from kindergarten just her. So it’s tough. I haven’t talked to her, but I’m just attempting to say hi.”

And though Williams isn’t any longer as mobile at age 40, she will win points in quite a lot of manners, deploying drop shots successfully in Toronto and using her still-impressive first serve to secure quick points or arrange next-shot winners.

“I feel she’s serving well,” Hechtman said. “The pace is there on the serve, because it at all times has been through her profession. She’s been improving since Wimbledon, and I feel she’s definitely striking the ball cleaner, and I’d say the movement has improved. So, on all those fronts, it’s good.”

The intent is to have a greater, fuller preparation heading into Recent York than she had heading into Wimbledon, where she had played only two doubles matches at a tournament in Eastbourne, England, with Ons Jabeur before facing Tan.

“We’re playing more events coming in,” Hechtman said. “So I feel that’s useful and what we should be doing. It’s like warming up for a match, right? You don’t just start the match cold. You’ve got to get the rhythm, and she or he’s getting her rhythm with the more matches she plays.”

Body willing, she’s going to play no less than one in Mason, Ohio.

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