INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Her victory at the 2021 US Open was so unlikely, so uplifting that even 18 months later, it continues to skew the perceptions of and the expectations for Emma Raducanu.
At the age of 19, she became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era. What happens when you scale the mightiest of mountains on one of your very first expeditions? That is the unfolding drama we’ll see playing out in the near future.
On Saturday afternoon, Raducanu scored an impressive 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over No.20 seed and recent Australian Open semifinalist Magda Linette in a BNP Paribas Open second-round match.
Believe it or not, it’s the first time Raducanu has won back-to-back matches since last September in Seoul.
It’s sometimes difficult to remember that she is still only 20 years old – and her body has yet to adapt to the grueling physical challenges of professional tennis. Her sample size is astonishingly small. That US Open was only her fourth event at the Hologic WTA Tour level; she played only 18 such matches in 2021. Last year, a multitude of injuries restricted her activity and she finished with a 17-19 record. Coaching flux has been another issue.
This year, it’s been more of the same. An ankle injury in Auckland left her in tears and forced a retirement from a second-round match. After splitting two matches at the Australian Open, she didn’t play again until this Indian Wells event, a gap of some 50 days. Last month in Austin, she withdrew with a case of tonsillitis, which caused her to withdraw from a pre-tournament charity showcase at Indian Wells. After defeating Danka Kovinic in the first round, 6-2, 6-3, she told reporters that the wrist pain that dogged her at the end of last year had returned.
“This tournament I had so little practice in the last few weeks, that really playing the matches has been a bonus and a win,” Radacanu told reporters later. “I’m enjoying competing again. I think this feeling of competition definitely beats being sick or injured or out. So I’m really just cherishing every time I get to step out on the match court.
“Because of the amount of the setbacks I have had and the amount of time I have spent off the court in the past 18 months, I think you definitely appreciate it more when you’re able to be on the court. Obviously I had a couple in a row, so I’m just really pleased to be out on the court.”
On Saturday, neither the sore throat nor the right wrist -- though she had a brief visit from the trainer -- proved to dampen her game.
Linette, hitting precise shots to the corners, raced out to a 4-1 lead, but Raducanu rallied nicely to force a first-set tiebreaker. Her forehand carried her there and she ended it with a vigorous series of fist pumps on the way to the changeover chair.
Raducanu broke Linette in the fourth game of the second set and fought off two break points in the fifth to take command of the match. She ended with a whippet-like forehand winner down the line that brought the capacity crowd in Stadium 4 to their feet.
Coming into the match, Raducanu had converted roughly one-third of her break-point opportunities this year. Here in Indian Wells, she’s a sparkling 10-for-14. Against Linette, her first serve was particularly effective, winning 28 of those 32 points.
After the match, when Raducanu was asked if this might be the start of another terrific run, she refused to go there.
“I just feel good with the way I’m working with my team,” she offered, “not getting too overly pleased or too down. I’m just plodding away. Yeah, I feel pretty good about how things are going.”
Don’t let that humility or the No.77 ranking fool you. When she is fit, Raducanu can play with anybody. She has now drawn even at .500 in WTA 1000 events, at 7-7. In her seven victories at WTA 1000 level, Raducanu has won in straight sets on six of those occasions. Linette, ranked No.21, is by far the highest-ranked player Raducanu has beaten at this level.
Monday’s third round will feature another step up in class. Raducanu faces No.13 Beatriz Haddad Maia, who was a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 comeback winner over Katerina Siniakova. The match required 2 hours, 37 minutes.
The winner could well wind up facing No.1 Iga Swiatek in the Round of 16.
“Sometimes you wonder, like, how is this possible?” Raducanu said of her turbulent past 18 months. “But then very quickly I think you create your own luck. It works both ways. I won the US Open as well, and I think I also have to take the bad luck sometimes, because also good fortune has also come upon me.
“I wouldn’t trade that title for the world. I’m just prepared to take whatever it takes, knowing that I have that in the bank.”
Later, Leylah Fernandez -- who lost in that 2021 US Open final to Raducanu --advanced to the third round with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over wildcard Emma Navarro, the 2021 NCAA Division 1 singles champion.
The 20-year-old Fernandez, ranked No.49, will now play No.5 Caroline Garcia, who defeated lucky loser Dalma Galfi 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-4.