There was a moment when the fight just seemed to slip away from Emma Raducanu. When all the stress of the last year, the pain, the disappointment seemed to combine in a silent sigh of acceptance.
First point of game eight, second set. Raducanu was a set down and trailed 4-3. The champion was at the net but had dragged her opponent there as well.
Alize Cornet tried to play a forehand pass but was in a hurry and scored. The ball hit the top of the net hard, but instead of falling to her side, it flew up, high, over Raducanu’s stand as she formed to volley, but fell like a rock, safe from the baseline. Of course it did.
There was a moment when the fight just seemed to slip away from Emma Raducanu
Raducanu turned to look at the landing ball, long since unable to recover, and her slender shoulders sagged.
She lost that game and the next, and the young queen of queens left the night.
The defense of her crown lasted 102 minutes including the legally required medical time-out. Bubbles, again the same as in Australia.
She had spent three more minutes on the practice field before the match than during the actual tournament. It was her first opening round exit at a Grand Slam and the first sets she had ever lost at a US Open.
But the Brit will always be the teenager who won the US Open from scratch
Raducanu hurried away, despite the expectant presence of autograph seekers. Even her wave of goodbye was fleeting. There comes a point where the shine of a year ago fades.
Raducanu will always be the teenager who won the US Open out of thin air, she will always have that fairy tale narrative but last night it will have felt a lot longer than 12 months away.
Sit and reflect in a few weeks and that experience can be rationalized as another climb up the learning curve, all part of the training she is now undergoing having joined the firm as chief executive officer.
But in the here and now that looked painful, and not just the bandages on her hand.
Raducanu is a fierce competitor, but so are many other women on tour, including Cornet.
She holds the current record for the most competitive Slam appearances in women’s football – this was her 63rd – and it showed.
Raducanu didn’t play badly, but Cornet was superior. It was exactly what was expected of her, a feat of courage, resilience and no small amount of skill.
It was a performance not in the least reminiscent of Andy Murray. Cornet found ways to keep the ball in play and wait for Raducanu to make a mistake.
Raducanu was beaten in straight sets by Alize Cornet in the first round of the US Open on Tuesday
She was tactically smart, athletic and determined. She took her chances, used all those 63 slams to drain Raducanu’s morale.
Cornet said that she physically held out in the end, but it was Raducanu who looked drained of all energy.
There were glimpses of her vast talent, as always, but she was being worn down by an older, more cunning tennis brain. It’s not the first time something like this has happened to a teenager on the track and it won’t be the last.
And no doubt Raducanu’s critics will take to the keyboards and into the airwaves on Wednesday morning.
So a little perspective. It’s still possible to find recordings of Raducanu playing Katherine Barnes at the Connaught Club last year.
Cornet said that physically she would hold out, but it was Raducanu who looked weak
It’s her first match after graduating from high school and just 112 days later she will win the US Open trophy. The attentive observer might notice something. There is no referee. At the level Raducanu was playing at this point in 2021, the players make the decisions and rely on mutual honesty.
As the sides change, Barnes, a county player, takes on the responsibility of documenting the score with flip cards in case anyone is interested or watching. Nobody is interested or watching.
So it’s no great disappointment that Raducanu is losing at this stage in her career to one of the tournament’s fiercer players, having reached at least the fourth round in all four Grand Slam tournaments and finished 11th once.
Rather, what she did last year was a gilded marvel unparalleled in the sport and raised expectations to impossible levels. It’s akin to expecting Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester team not only to retain the league title but also win the Champions League the following season.
Of course there is disappointment, but let’s be realistic about what would happen next
Of course there is disappointment with how her scores have evolved since her last appearance here and she will feel it more than anyone.
But let’s be realistic about what would happen next. Perhaps think of the paths of all other qualifiers who have won Grand Slam tournaments. Sorry – there aren’t any.
Later, Raducanu appeared for the first time as a smaller version of herself. Baseball cap pulled low over her eyes, face in shadow, she seemed smaller, slimmer; actually a teenager. She would now drop tremendously down the rankings.
With that would come depressurization, but also other complications. She would no longer be protected from the seeded players, the paths would become more difficult to walk.
Consider the paths of other qualifiers who have won Grand Slams. Sorry – there aren’t any
Still, the strain of being US Open champion was so young that Raducanu decided to take the positives.
“This time last year I would have made the top 100 at the end of my freshman year, so it’s nice to start fresh,” she said. “On the one hand I’m sad to leave here in the first round, but on the other hand I’m happy with a clean slate and a goal in the back.”
Learning goes on, mind you, and this is a tough school.
A vicious wind blew through Louis Armstrong Stadium early in the game, making the serve difficult to control, especially from its south end.
Raducanu never got the hang of it, Cornet did. “She just handled it better,” admitted the former champion.
“I was really struggling to come to terms with it.”
She sounded like she couldn’t wait to catch up, to have all the knowledge Cornet held within her with such ease. If it were that easy, anyone could do it.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-11163243/Emma-Raducanu-Open-teenage-winner-nowhere.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Emma Raducanu will always be the US Open teenage champion out of nowhere