As Emma Raducanu wrapped up her media obligations close to 10pm on Tuesday night, still digesting all of the wondrous moments she had experienced that evening, she faced another one of the learning experiences that have characterised her past year.
After the euphoria and adrenaline of snuffing out Serena Williams before her thunderous home crowd, Raducanu was charged with forgetting it all and quickly moving on, another former No 1 to come.
She handled the challenge with supreme, startling ease, following up her dismantling of Williams with an even more destructive performance. In just 62 minutes Raducanu eviscerated Victoria Azarenka 6-0, 6-2 to reach the third round on her Cincinnati debut. At the most opportune time, with her US Open title defence one tournament away, Raducanu’s confidence continues to grow.
While noting the necessity of cherishing these moments against players she had grown up watching win grand slams, Raducanu said that she entered both matches completely backing herself: “I just had to focus on what I could control, and in the points you can’t think about who is on the other end of the court,” she said. “You’ve just got to play the ball.”
Throughout this week, Raducanu has spoken about her intention to not get “too low or high” after moments over the past year where either her exuberance or negativity have not helped her unlock her best tennis.
“I think I have tried a lot of things, and this year I think some matches, I have lost a lot of matches from leading situations and probably just played too tense,” she said. “I think that I just need to swing, and I just said that these two tournaments or this tournament especially I’m just going to swing freely and take that and see what happens.”
One of the most difficult tasks in professional tennis is to back up a big win, remaining composed enough to produce tennis of the same quality in the following rounds. It became immediately clear that there would be no hangover as she broke Azarenka’s serve in the opening game and ran with the lead, hugging the baseline and robbing time from Azarenka with her early ball-striking while offering few errors.
While Raducanu played extremely well, Azarenka’s performance was appalling. She sprayed unforced errors and moved sluggishly, and finished the first set with just four winners to 16 errors in the first set alone. Beforehand, Raducanu said she intended to be “stingy” with her game, not allowing opponents any free points, and she lived that stinginess to the fullest as she established a 6-0, 4-0 lead, dangerously close to inflicting Azarenka’s first ever double bagel.
At 33 years old and with her stagnant ranking of 22, Azarenka is even further removed from her days as a top player than Williams, her run to the 2020 US Open final an anomaly in the six years since she was a top–10 Raducanu efficiently exposed those frailties, and Azarenka could only fight for her reputation. player. She held serve twice before Raducanu closed off the win without issue.
This week marks Raducanu’s second tournament accompanied by coach Dmitry Tursunov, who began their trial period at the Citi Open and it is evidently going well. In their two events together, she has won consecutive matches each time and made clear progress. More broadly, her performances are a reminder that even when players are struggling, momentum can quickly build.
There are tougher challenges ahead against players competing at the top level in their physical primes, and another barometer awaits. Raducanu will next face the American Jessica Pegula, the much improved seventh seed, who will be just the second top 10 opponent of Raducanu’s career.
Still, this has been some week. While Williams’ presence has loomed over tennis since Raducanu was born, she noted that she has also watched Azarenka since the start of her career. When Azarenka contested the US Open final in 2020, Raducanu was studying for her exams, dreaming of one day joining her on those stages.
“I think after the tournament I actually have to, you know, take a step back and be like, ’Look, like, you just beat two unbelievable champions.’ It’s a pretty good achievement. You know how difficult the wins are to come by,” she said.