Emma Raducanu arrived in Linz with the simple goal of gaining more experience and match play in her final week of an unimaginably intense year, but she was unable to avoid that enormous, growing target on her back.
Starting, illogically, as the top seed in just her seventh tour event, Raducanu fought until the end but succumbed to an impressive opponent and a hip spasm in the final games, losing 6-1, 6-7 (0), 7-5 to Wang Xinyu of China in a high quality second round match at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz.
After her defeat, Raducanu was in positive spirits as she dissected her match with a smile on her face, noting her opponent’s performance and her satisfaction at her own level. “I thought that it was a really high level match. I thought that Xinyu played extremely well, especially the first set. I’m proud of the way that I performed to try and get back in the match when everything was going her way and she was playing extremely well,” she said.
Raducanu was facing a talented contemporary who enjoyed a more spectacular junior career, reaching number two in the ITF rankings. Wang, 20, had advanced through qualifying and she has been in strong form for weeks. She produced a dominant first set, controlling the baseline with her forehand as she finished the set with 13 winners and just three unforced errors.
But even as she struggled to win games, Raducanu was fully invested and she continually fought through the second set, roaring after victorious points and mouthing “fight” to herself between rallies. As Raducanu remained in touch, Wang’s level had significantly dropped and they soon found themselves in a tiebreak, which Raducanu played flawlessly to level the match.
Throughout an intense third set filled with big shotmaking and high octane exchanges, both talented young players performed at a relatively high level and they held all eight games to reach 4-4. But after a particularly bruising rally on the opening point, Raducanu pulled up with a hip spasm. She lost the game to love and took a medical timeout before saving two match points to brilliantly reach 5-5. Wang’s focus, however, did not waver and she quickly reeled off the final two games to seal her victory.
Raducanu finishes her breakout season with a 2-3 record since her US Open triumph. That she has not immediately adjusted to the week-by-week grind of the tour with so little experience was predictable and there is no shame in it. She is still learning what it means to be a professional player at the highest level, which she has frequently acknowledged.
“A lot has happened this year,” she said. “Where I was in January, February, March, I would have taken it. I have learnt how much room I have to develop physically and what playing on the tour week in, week out actually needs because clearly my body is still trying to get up to speed. I was honestly quite happy with the level I put out and tried to fight back.”
With her season now finished, Raducanu, who turns 19 on Saturday, can now take a rare holiday. “I haven’t been on a holiday for seven years, so it would be nice to have an opportunity to go somewhere,” she said, smiling. When she returns, she will start work with her new coach, Torben Beltz, as they prepare for her first full season on the tour.
Andy Murray advanced to the second round of the Stockholm Open, his final tournament of the year, with a 6-1, 7-6 (7) win over Viktor Durasovic, a 354-ranked Norwegian qualifier. Murray, who is holding a coaching trial with the Spaniard Esteban Carril, now has a far loftier challenge in his second round match against Jannik Sinner, the top seed.