Emma Raducanu excited by chance to play 'best of all time' Serena Williams

·3 min read
Emma Raducanu can prove she is still in ‘top flight’ by beating Serena Williams - GETTY IMAGES
Emma Raducanu can prove she is still in ‘top flight’ by beating Serena Williams - GETTY IMAGES

Emma Raducanu has expressed excitement at her “incredible” opportunity to play against Serena Williams before her idol retires from the sport.

The Briton faces the 23-time major singles champion for the first time in her career in the first round of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Raducanu, who won the US Open last summer as a qualifier, recognises that it is also likely to be her last opportunity to play the 40-year-old Williams who had already reached world No 1 when the Briton was born in November 2002. The 19-year-old will make her debut at the WTA and ATP hardcourt event, while Williams has indicated she will leave the sport at some point after the US Open.

“For our careers to have crossed like this, I'm fortunate to be able to play her,” the Bromley-born player said ahead of her Cincinnati debut. “Whatever happens, it will be an incredible experience that I'll surely remember for the rest of my life.

"It will be an exciting match, I'm looking forward to it. It will be an amazing opportunity to play the best tennis player of all time. This will probably be my last opportunity."

Raducanu is hoping to hit form again after last week's first-round loss in Toronto to Camila Giorgi. “After losing, I got straight back out on court,” Raducanu said on Sunday. “I didn't take any time to reflect or mourn.”

Market research by Rob Mills, chief executive of consultancy firm Turnstile, said the 19-year-old's appeal to brands remains strong, despite her struggles since winning the US Open a year ago.

However, a victory against Williams, who has said she will be “evolving away” from the sport after the US Open, would provide a major reassurance to sponsors that she remains on the right track, Mills said.

“In the data that we're seeing coming through, her appeal is still strong. There's obviously an understanding from fans that she's still young, and she's progressing.

“She's in a really strong position based on the research that we've had coming through. I think everyone has expectations that she's going to keep progressing. There's no visible signs of any change that we're picking up... but if she does well against Serena, obviously that keeps reinforcing the credibility that she's a top flight player.”

Raducanu, who has long-term deals with the likes of Tiffany and Co, Nike and Wilson, last week insisted she is not feeling the pressure as she prepares to defend her US Open crown. Pressure “is only either what I put on myself or what I expect from myself”, she told Sky Sports. “I only feel the pressure, or even think about it, whenever I'm in my press conferences because every single question is about pressure,” she added.

The Briton's historic victory at Flushing Meadows came 22 years after Williams won her first major singles title in New York, aged just 17. The winner of the match between Raducanu and Williams will face either Victoria Azarenka or Kaia Kanepi in the second round.

Since last year's US Open, Raducanu has played in 16 tournaments and been knocked out by a lower-ranked player 14 times.