NEW YORK – Entering this US Open, Emma Raducanu was asked by reporters if she felt the pressure to defend her title.
“I think you think probably more about pressure and ranking than I do,” the 19-year-old from Britain responded crisply. “I think defending a title is just something that the press creates. I’m just taking it one match at a time.
“Every single player is very capable in this draw. I’m just focused on what I’m doing, my own trajectory. Like I said last year, I’m just going to do things my way.”
It worked out nicely in 2021, when she won all 10 of her matches (including qualifying) and became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era. It was only her second major.
But since then she is more modest 15-19. That includes Tuesday night’s 6-3, 6-3 loss against Alizé Cornet at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Her ranking – which soared into the top 10 back in July – will soon fall outside the top 75. If Harriet Dart wins her second round match against Dalma Galfi – Raducanu will be the British No.2.
The screening was intensive, but it is a small sample size; Raducanu did not play her first WTA main draw until less than 15 months ago. Then she was a wildcard on the grass in Nottingham and ranked No.366 in the world. A round-of-16 run at Wimbledon changed everything. She defeated two Top 50 players – Sorana Cirstea and Marketa Vondrousova – and almost halved her ranking. The US Open jumped her into the Top 25.
This year, Raducanu lost two of three matches in Washington and Toronto but rallied recently in Cincinnati, beating Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka back-to-back. And while she eventually fell to Jessica Pegula, a Top 10 player, there were signs that – encouraged by new coach Dmitry Tursunov – she was swinging freely again.
Raducanu had her serve broken three times in the first set, the last time on a crippling double fault. It was 3-all in the second when Cornet hit a gorgeous half-volley winner en route to her sixth break of Raducanu’s serve.
A seventh break was enough to get Cornet over the line.
“My game at the net was pretty good,” Cornet said in an on-court interview. “I did a lot of variation – I think that worked tonight.”
The 32-year-old from France has a history of some timely wins – against big opponents. Cornet, ranked No. 37, has already produced five Top-20 wins this season, including an upset of No.1 Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon and a memorable win over Simona Halep in Melbourne.
“I think I’m dealing with my emotions better,” Cornet said. “I guess I’m getting older – more mature. It shows in my results. I’m 32 – better late than never.”
She is appearing in her 63rd consecutive Grand Slam main draw, the longest run in Open Era history. Cornet is coming off a semi-final appearance last week in Cleveland – and earned her best major effort back in January with a quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open.
She will play Katerina Siniakova on Thursday.
“I saw that I beat a Grand Slam champion in every Slam this year,” Cornet said. “I think it’s crazy. It’s kind of cool. These players that I admire, that I’ve followed for a long time, knowing that I’m part of this world, that I can beat them at a Slam, I do. I don’t know, I still feel like a kid sometimes.”
Several weeks ago in Toronto, Raducanu surprised reporters by saying she was looking forward to a “clean slate” in the fall season.
“It will be nice after the US Open is over.” Raducanu said, “and I can continue from there. Start again.”
Wish granted. Start the clock.
“In a way the target will be off my back a little bit,” Raducanu said after the loss. “I’ve just got another chance to get back up there. I’ve done a really good job especially in the last six weeks. Just looking forward to kind of putting more of those weeks together consistently, then we’ll see what happens.”
“I think I’ll play some 250s. I think the rest of the year is it. We’ll see what the calendar holds.”