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Serena Williams, her ‘countdown’ underway, loses in last U.S. Open tuneup

Serena Williams lost in straight sets to Emma Raducanu on Tuesday night. (Jeff Dean/AP)

For the second time since indicating last week that she will soon retire from tennis, Serena Williams lost in straight sets, this time in the opening round of the final tuneup before the U.S. Open.

Emma Raducanu, the 19-year-old who was the surprise winner of the U.S. Open last year, scored a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Williams on Tuesday night in a sold-out match that lasted 65 minutes and gave fans on Center Court at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open little to cheer for.

In her first match since telling Vogue that the remainder of her career can be measured in weeks, Williams lost, 6-2, 6-4, to Belinda Bencic on Aug. 10 in the second round of the Canadian Open in Toronto, where, with a few tears, she said goodbye to Canadian fans and was given the kinds of parting mementos typical of a farewell tour.

Want to see Serena Williams at the U.S. Open? Good luck getting a ticket.

The scene was different in Cincinnati. The power game so elegantly displayed by Williams in her prime was missing — she lost her opening service game at love and her last three service games. Her diminished ability to move because of leg injuries was evident as she racked up unforced errors and missed returns. On her second serve, she won only two of 16 points.

When it was over, Williams declined an on-court interview and quickly left the court after shaking Raducanu’s hand, heading into an uncertain couple of weeks leading up to the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29. Although she did not explicitly say when her tennis career will end, she said last week that “the countdown has begun” on her final appearances.

“Well, I think we all need to just honor Serena and her amazing career,” Raducanu told the crowd. “I’m so grateful for the experience to be able to play her and for our careers to cross over. Everything she has achieved is so inspirational, and yeah, it was a true honor to share this court with her.”

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Raducanu added that she was “all for it” when the crowd cheered for Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, second only to Margaret Court’s 24.

Williams, who will turn 41 next month, has played in only four singles matches over the past 14 months and missed a year of action after tearing her hamstring when she slipped at Wimbledon in 2021. Williams told Vogue that however long her tennis career lasts, “retirement” is a difficult word.

“There is no happiness in this topic for me,” Williams told the magazine. “I know it’s not the usual thing to say, but I feel a great deal of pain. It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it.

“I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”

Williams added that her evolution from tennis is in full swing as she concentrates on her Serena Ventures business and other opportunities as well as possibly expanding her family.

“There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction. That time is always hard when you love something so much,” she wrote last week on Instagram under a shot of the Vogue cover. “My goodness do I enjoy tennis. But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just [as] exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”