It's like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Only, in tennis.
As WTA icon and 23-time Major champion Serena Williams prepares to step down from her throne atop the tour, there's confidence in the air. Sure, she's leaving, saying goodbye to the sport that's been the entirety of her adult life, but the next generation seems raring to keep pace with her legacy.
Take British No. 1 Emma Raducanu for example, who defeated Williams in two straight sets last night during their sold-out, main draw match.
Raducanu said she hadn't even opened the main draw invitation to see who she was playing before someone texted her: "You're playing Serena!"
"I had just landed from Toronto and, to be honest, my initial reaction was like, 'Wow. That is written. That is a gift. I can't believe it,'" she said in a press conference following their Tuesday night match. "The chances that (this was) maybe one of the last opportunities I get to play her ... you just really have to cherish the moment. You're going to have this memory for the rest of your career, so I was really trying to make the most out of every single point out there."
Williams announced her pending retirement from tennis just days before she arrived in Mason, Ohio, scheduling it on the calendar for after the U.S. Open on Aug. 29-Sept. 11. Tuesday night was the first time Williams' has entered the Western & Southern Open and lost first round. Prior, she was 9-0 in appearances.
Williams did not talk to reporters after the match.
Raducanu, currently the top-ranked British player and No. 13 singles player in the world at only 19-years-old, the 2021 U.S. Open champion is rising talent, the same as Williams was in 1999 when she won her first grand slam title. Raducanu is set to play Victoria Azarenka, another grand slam winner, in the round of 32 on Wednesday afternoon.
"It does help (my confidence), playing Serena and managing to win, ... but I think that, at this level, you play anyone and it's a really difficult match and each of those wins can build confidence, regardless of the level you're playing. Every single win counts, but of course this one did more so because (she's) the greatest," Raducanu said. "I didn't want to make a scene (after I won). She's done so much for the sport. I respect her a lot and I didn't think a big celebration was necessary. The biggest celebration was (how) the crowd honored her, us."
Raducanu said she had a lot of doubts last night, despite her hot start in both sets.
"It was like, well, I'm playing Serena, I have to let up a little bit," she said. "The (negative) thoughts start coming into your head, like when I got broken after being 4-1 up. I knew that was a little opening I gave her and she definitely capitalized and she started to play better. I was just really focused on keeping my composure (through it) and holding my next service game."
With the fast turnaround into her next match, Raducanu has a lot on her plate. But, her celebration won't be snuffed.
"It's important to really cherish the wins, because if anything, this year has taught me that wins don't come by easily and no matter what win that is, it means a lot to any athlete. I definitely am going to take it in and be really proud of myself," she said. "I am not trying to get too high or too low right now. I'm just trying to stay on one path and trajectory because I know I've been on both ends of that. Happy, proud, but moving on."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Emma Raducanu shows promise for next generation of WTA players