Emma Raducanu was the biggest story in sport 12 months ago. But at this US Open, as the defending champion, she is far from the main attraction.
As amazing as her run was last year, some athletes are impossible to outgrow – Serena Williams is a prime example. Six-time US Open champion Williams is calling time on her career in New York this fortnight, and that means everyone will be playing second fiddle, including Raducanos.
Even so, Raducanu’s profile in this tournament is decidedly more muted than it has been elsewhere this season. An easy indication of where he stands in the grand scheme of things is the schedule for the second day of the tournament. Some expected Raducanu to return to the scene of her victory last year, Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest tennis court, for her first match on Tuesday. But he is scheduled to open the night session on the second show court, Louis Armstrong Court.
It’s a huge step up from the anonymity he experienced on the outdoor courts during qualifying, where he started this tournament last year. Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Venus Williams and Carlos Alcaraz are all worthy of their place at Arthur Ashe – especially the top three, who share eight US Open titles. But the slight indifference shows 11th seed Raducanu’s place in the hierarchy.
Raducanu, 19, played only a small role in ESPN’s opening video montages for their Monday morning telecast as well. Instead, the emotional scenes featured mainly Williams, Coco Gauff and Leylah Fernandez, with a sprinkling from Rafael Nadal.
For all her fame and fortune in Britain, standing out in the crowded New York star scene will take some work for Raducanu – and some wins. That won’t be easy against Alize Cornet, world No. 37 and one of the most experienced players on tour.
“It’s not an easy draw,” Cornet said when she learned of the draw last week, but one suspects she was delighted to be given the chance to play such a high-profile opening match.
A year ago, the 32-year-old Cornet privately considered retirement. But in 2022 he showed he can still compete and win at the top level and he especially loves the top scalp. She beat two slam champions in Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep on her way to her first major quarter-final in Melbourne and then ended Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon. This US Open is her 63rd consecutive appearance at a major – a remarkable record on the WTA Tour.
“I know I still have the level to compete with these players,” Cornet said last week, reflecting on her big-name wins. the drama on the field. He will not be intimidated by Radoukanou.
The British No 1 has also proven her love of the main stage, however, and will no doubt match Cornet’s competitive fire. Raducanu loves the conditions here in New York, and her game matches the controversial lighter balls used in this event, which other top players have complained about.
But her less consistent form in recent months has raised questions. She didn’t miss advice from some of the best in the world on how to stabilize her results either. “The only thing I’m saying,” seven-time champion Justine Henin said last week, “is [Raducanu] She has to be focused on the game if she wants to maintain a certain balance in what is happening to her and after winning a Grand Slam of course so much attention, so many pleas, agents and probably money and a lot of things.”
Meanwhile, 18-time champion Chris Evert believes Raducanu will struggle to make nearly the same impact as last year. “I think it will be very difficult,” Evert told Telegraph Sport. “I think what he wants to do is just focus on the first match, win it. I think there’s going to be a huge amount of pressure. Plus the fact that I don’t think he’s where he wants to be come the Open yet.
“I love her game. She has great technique, I love her attitude. But I don’t know if she has that A-game to win that title again this year. It’s not even that Emma isn’t where she was last year. , because she might be, but a lot of the girls are playing better and they know her game. Last year she didn’t feel the pressure, this year she’s going to feel the pressure, so she has a few things against her.”