Because Emma Raducanu’s US Open defense has fallen at the first hurdle

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Why Emma Raducanu’s US Open defense fell at the first hurdle – PA

Emma Raducanu will no longer be the US Open champion, nor a top 15 player by the end of this fortnight in New York. She could even lose her British No.1 crown.

She played much better on Tuesday than she did during her run to the second round at Wimbledon earlier this summer, but any chance of victory against 40th-ranked Alize Cornet remained elusive and she had nothing to show for the her efforts. Here are the reasons why:

Pressure to defend a title

Only one woman other than Serena Williams has won back-to-back titles in the same category over the past 10 years (Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013). This year, Naomi Osaka was the only reigning slam champion to even win a match while defending her title. It seems that 2,000 rank points can weigh on the mind.

Raducanu’s memories of New York were only fond before this week, having never lost a set. But history has shown that the odds of him reliving that miracle here were high. However, her first outing in the first round after a major pinch, this was clear from her post-fight press conference, where she cut an understandably disappointing figure.

But for Raducanu, a future without “reigning US Open champion” prefixed to her name could help her approach her tennis with more freedom.

“It’s clean,” he said. “In perspective, actually as a 19-year-old, I didn’t have a bad year. To be in the top 100, if you had told me a year ago, I would have taken it. But I think it would be nice to have a way to start over, to start over.”

The return of blister-gate

The list of ailments Raducanu has dealt with this season has been long and tiring, stunting her momentum both on the court and in training. From back stiffness, broken toenails and abdominal strains, she has had a difficult time trying to prepare her body for the demands of WTA tennis.

Tuesday saw the return of the phenomenon in her fingers that had a major impact on her fortunes at the Australian Open in January – leaving her with just one piece of forehand at her disposal in her second-round loss.

After losing the first set to Cornet in New York, the familiar scene played out where Raducanu called a medical time-out and received treatment for her badly glued fingers on her right hand. Although she played and it didn’t seem to hinder her much, the recurring physical weakness remains a worrying sign.

Emma Raducanu's hands have caused her problems all season - PA

Emma Raducanu’s hands have caused her problems all season – PA

Troubleshoot

The main issue was holding serve – which Raducanu only managed to do twice in the entire match. It was a shame, given that her serve looked so effective in Cincinnati a fortnight ago – especially her forehand – where she scored important wins over Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka.

She hit just 58 percent of her first serves on Tuesday and said it was affected by the windy conditions. “I think it was quite windy. It was blowing from the back to the front,” he said.

“It was really hard for me, especially finding my ball flight. I think I was hitting a lot of serves for a long time. I just had a hard time really adjusting to it. It’s something that both players have to deal with. He just did with that better than me today.”

Conversely, he came back with great aggression from the off and won four of the six break points on Cornet’s serve. But that hard work was undone by her own blistering service games.

Emma Raducanu struggles with her serve on her return in New York - AP

Emma Raducanu struggles with her serve on her return in New York – AP

Surpassed by the variety of Cornet

Cornet’s deft drop-shots and clever net play proved decisive. Once the 32-year-old saw she could catch the Brit behind the baseline, she began hitting Radukano’s balls in the middle of the court. Cornet won 14 of 16 net points, compared to five of Radukanos’ 14.

While Raducanu chased deadlifts and watched helplessly as lobs flew overhead, Cornet was brimming with confidence, pumping up the crowd and gesturing with her racquet as if it were a magic wand.

“Maybe in the future I can look to improve my game to play players like that,” thought Raducanu. “It’s something I haven’t done a lot, so I’m not going to try it in a match. The times I did, he read where I was going and hit a pretty good lob.”

Cornet’s colorful demeanor and variety has overwhelmed some of the best players of her career, including Williams, and at this year’s majors Cornet knocked out champions Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko and Iga Swiatek in Melbourne, Paris and Wimbledon respectively .

“I’m the upset girl this year,” she said with a smile after defeating Radukanu. “I was like, OK, I’ve done it in the previous three Grand Slams – so why not this one?”

He chipped, whipped and put balls in Radukano’s way with relentless defense and smart shot selection on offense as well. Raducanu in turn felt the pressure, her usually reliable spray errors and forehand following through.

“Alize’s defense was pretty good. I thought she was just knocking it all back,” Raducanu said. “There were like junk balls in the middle of the field. He kept getting it back. I think I probably wasn’t going for my shots as much because of the conditions.”

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