NEW YORK -- Heading into this US Open, Emma Raducanu was asked by reporters if she was feeling the pressure to defend her title.
“I think you guys are thinking probably more about pressure and ranking than me,” the 19-year-old from Great Britain answered crisply. “I think defending a title is just something that the press makes up. I’m just taking it one match at a time.
“Every single player is very capable in this draw. I just focus on what I’m doing, my own trajectory. As I said last year, I’m just going to do things my way.”
It worked beautifully 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’s a more modest 15-19. That includes Tuesday night’s 6-3, 6-3 loss to Alizé Cornet in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Her ranking -- which soared into the Top 10 back in July -- will soon plummet to outside the top 75. If Harriet Dart wins her second-round match against Dalma Galfi, Raducanu will be the British No.2.
The scrutiny has been intense, but it’s a small sample size; Raducanu didn’t play her first WTA main draw until less than 15 months ago. Back then she was a wild card on the grass in Nottingham and ranked No.366 in the world. A Round of 16 run at Wimbledon changed everything. She beat two Top 50 players -- Sorana Cirstea and Marketa Vondrousova -- and nearly cut her ranking in half. The US Open vaulted her into the Top 25.
This year, Raducanu lost two of three matches in Washington, D.C. and Toronto but rallied recently in Cincinnati, defeating Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka back to back. And while she eventually fell to Jessica Pegula, a Top 10 player, there were signs that -- urged on by new coach Dmitry Tursunov -- she was swinging freely again.
Alize Cornet is FIRED UP— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 31, 2022
The 🇫🇷 takes the first set over Raducanu, 6-3. pic.twitter.com/ZBilJWtdCi
Raducanu had her serve broken three times in the first set, the last time due to a crippling double fault. It was 3-all in the second when Cornet hit a gorgeous half-volley winner on the way 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’s what worked tonight."
The 32-year-old from France has a history of some timely wins -- against big opponents. Cornet, ranked No.37, has already crafted 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 handling my emotions better," Cornet said. "I guess I’m getting old -- more mature. It shows in my results. I’m 32 -- better late than never."
She’s appearing in her 63rd consecutive Grand Slam main draw, the longest run in Open Era history. Cornet is coming off a semifinal appearance last week in Cleveland -- and scored her best major effort back in January with a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open.
She’ll play Katerina Siniakova on Thursday.
"I saw that I've beaten a Grand Slam champion on every Slam this year," Cornet said. "I think it's crazy. It's kind of cool. These players that I'm admiring, that I have been following for a long time, knowing I'm part of this world, that I can beat them on a Slam, I don't know, I still feel like a kid sometimes."
Several weeks ago in Toronto, Raducanu surprised reporters by saying she looked forward to a “clean slate” heading into the fall season.
“It’s going to be nice once the US Open is finished.” Raducanu said, “and I can carry on from there. Start again.”
Wish granted. Start the clock.
"In a way the target will be off my back slightly," Raducanu said after the loss. "I just have another chance to claw my way back up there. I've been doing some really good work in the last six weeks especially. 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 that. We'll see what the calendar holds."