Cincinnati (US), Aug 15 (IANS): Serena Williams, who is playing her second-to-last tournament of her career, will face reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in her first round match at Western & Southern Open, here on Monday.
The 40-year old Williams, who is more than two decades older than her 19-year-old opponent, was the top-ranked player in the world when Raducanu was born in November of 2002.
Raducanu, at a career-high No 10 among WTA Tour players, draws the unseeded Williams, who has played only three matches in the past 13 months. It's their first meeting and, quite possibly, their last.
"To see her around in this US swing is really inspiring. She keeps playing because she obviously loves the game. And I think that longevity of a career is something that a lot of the players, and me especially, aspire to achieve as well," Raducanu said about Williams in Toronto.
The matchup between the veteran and the rising star feels like it will be a close one.
Williams won her first-round match at the National Bank Open last week in Toronto before losing to Belinda Bencic in the second round. Speaking of random draws, Raducanu had the misfortune to face defending Canadian Open champion Camila Giorgi in the first round and went quietly after an entertaining first set, 7-6 (0), 6-2.
It's been a disappointing season for the British teenager. Despite that career-high ranking, she's 11-14 so far. Still, Raducanu produced some encouraging results a few weeks ago at the Citi Open in Washington, DC, before falling in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Liudmila Samsonova.
"To have success at a young age, obviously you have to be really grateful because I'm doing what I love, but also I've reached success way earlier than I ever really would have thought I did.So I'm pretty proud of myself in that way," Raducanu said.
"But it has been a tough year. I've definitely gone through and experienced a lot of challenges. To be fair, I've learned a lot from all of it," she added.
Williams is arguably the greatest women's player ever, but at 40 she's understandably a step or two slower. Raducanu is quick around the court and, like the past three women to defeat Serena (Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Harmony Tan and Bencic), there will be no sense of nostalgia, no respect for elders.
However, the 23-time major champion has been putting in the work, which was evident in her first-round win against Nuria Parrizas Diaz in Toronto. Compared to her three-set loss to Harmony Tan at Wimbledon, which was her first singles match in nearly a year, Williams showed big improvements in every facet of her game.
Her movement and anticipation were quicker, her serve was firing more consistently and her patience was rock solid. All those hours on the practice court have shaken off more of the rust.
The key to victory for Serena will be to keep Raducanu at bay with her serve while mitigating the Brit's opportunities to expose her movement out wide.
When it comes to experience, Williams has it in spades. In a career that has spanned nearly two-and-a-half decades, Williams knows multiple ways to win and has solved more puzzles than Raducanu has yet to face in her young career. She has seen every situation and every ball that can come across a tennis court hundreds of times.