NEW YORK — As the US Open approaches, Emma Raducanu has been asked by reporters if she feels the pressure to defend her title.
“I think you probably think more about pressure and ranking than I do,” the 19-year-old British player snapped. “I think defending a title is just something the press makes up. I just take it one game at a time.
“Every player is very capable in this draw. I just focus on what I’m doing, my own trajectory. Like I said last year, I’m just going to do things my way.
It worked wonders in 2021, when she won all 10 of her matches (including qualifiers) and became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era. It was only his second major.
But since then, she’s been a more modest 15-19. That includes Tuesday night’s 6-3, 6-3 loss to Alizé Cornet at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Her ranking – which climbed into the top 10 in July – will soon drop outside the top 75. If Harriet Dart wins her second-round match against Dalma Galfi – Raducanu will be Britain’s No.
The scrutiny has been intense, but this is a small sample; Raducanu only played his first WTA main draw less than 15 months ago. At the time, she was a wildcard on grass at Nottingham and ranked No. 366 in the world. A round of 16 at Wimbledon changed everything. She beat two Top 50 players – Sorana Cirstea and Marketa Vondrousova – and almost halved her ranking. The US Open propelled her into the Top 25.
This year, Raducanu has lost two of three matches in Washington, DC and Toronto, but recently rallied in Cincinnati, beating Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka back to back. And while she finally fell to Top 10 player Jessica Pegula, there were signs that – spurred on by new coach Dmitry Tursunov – she was swinging free again.
Raducanu had his serve broken three times in the first set, the last time due to a disabling double fault. It was 3-all in the second when Cornet hit a magnificent half-volley winner on the way to his sixth break from Raducanu’s serve.
A seventh break was enough to send Cornet over the line.
“My net game was pretty good,” Cornet said in an on-court interview. “I did a lot of variations – I think that’s what worked tonight.”
The 32-year-old Frenchman has a history of a few timely wins – against great opponents. Cornet, ranked No. 37, has already scored five Top 20 wins this season, including an upset against No. 1 Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon and a memorable win over Simona Halep in Melbourne.
“I think I manage my emotions better,” Cornet said. “I guess I’m getting older – more mature. It shows in my results. I’m 32 – better late than never.”
She is participating in her 63rd consecutive Grand Slam main draw, the longest streak in Open Era history. Cornet is coming off a semi-final last week in Cleveland – and scored his best major effort in January with a quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open.
She will play Katerina Siniakova on Thursday.
“I saw that I beat a Grand Slam champion at every Grand Slam this year,” Cornet said. “I think it’s crazy. It’s pretty cool. These players that I look up to, that I’ve followed for a long time, knowing that I’m part of this world, that I can beat them in Slams, I don’t know no, I still feel like a kid sometimes.”
Several weeks ago in Toronto, Raducanu surprised reporters by saying she was looking forward to a “clean slate” ahead of the fall season.
“It’s going to be nice once the US Open is over.” Raducanu said, “and I can go from there. Restart.”
Wish granted. Start the clock.
“Somehow the target will be slightly on my back,” Raducanu said after the loss. “I just have another chance to get back up there. I’ve done a really good job the last six weeks in particular. I’m just looking forward to putting more of these weeks together consistently, so we’ll see what what happens.”
“I think I’ll be playing 250s. I think the rest of the year is that. We’ll see what the calendar has in store for us.”