Emma Raducanu’s US Open title defense ended at the first hurdle with a straight-set loss to veteran France’s Alize Cornet.
It was a far cry from what happened 12 months ago when the 19-year-old made too many mistakes and suffered a 6-3-6-3 loss on a windy night in New York.
Raducanu will drop to around 80 in the rankings but while she certainly wanted to go further, she might be relieved that moment is over and she can try to lay firmer foundations for her tennis career.
Naomi Osaka had been given the prime-time evening seat at Arthur Ashe, so Raducanu instead began their title defense at an airy and, at least initially, sparsely populated Louis Armstrong Stadium.
The fans inside gave Raducanu a warm welcome as they welcomed back their most unlikely master.
Virginia Wade, who watched in amazement at Raducanu’s success last year, was back on the sidelines, while the biggest difference in the Kent teenager’s support camp now is the presence of Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov, whom she is courting in her search for a permanent coach.
The wind affected the competition from the start, with Cornet struggling on serve when Raducanu broke in game one, only to return it with errors of his own.
Those errors quickly began to pile up and betrayed the tough time Raducanu has had on the pitch over the past 50 weeks, now the hunted rather than the hunter.
The teenager found it particularly difficult to recapture the same free-swinging approach that left her opponents flat-footed but spoke of a determination to be on the front foot in build-up.
She hadn’t lost more than five games in a single set last year but Cornet came out of three straight breaks down the right flank to lead 5-3 in the opener and showed superb defense to win the set.
The Frenchwoman announced in January that she was considering retiring at the end of 2022, but it has been one of the best seasons of her career, with a long-awaited first Slam quarterfinal in Australia before ending Iga Swiatek’s 37 unbeaten games at Wimbledon.
She will now carry on at least until next year’s French Open, and being at a record 63. Grand Slam, this was exactly the kind of opportunity she enjoys.
Raducanu took a medical time-out to treat blisters on her fingers and dropped serve again to start the second set.
However, Cornet gave away plenty of free points from double faults and with the Frenchwoman unhappy to see the roof closed mid-game, Raducanu reeled off three games in a row.
But she couldn’t hold the advantage, Cornet broke back with the craziest drop shots and pulled back to take the win.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/emma-raducanu-virginia-wade-new-york-kent-australia-b2156226.html Emma Raducanu falls at the first hurdle while defending her title at the US Open