Emma Raducanu scored her best win in the 18 months since her US Open triumph, overcoming world No13 Beatriz Haddad Maia in a thrilling match under the palm trees of Indian Wells.
Despite her status as a grand slam champion, Raducanu is still relatively inexperienced against opposition of this quality, having only come up against top-20 players on eight previous occasions. But you wouldn’t have known it from the way she tore into Haddad Maia from the word go, ripping through her opening service game to love and then breaking the Brazilian’s mighty left-handed serve at the first opportunity.
Raducanu’s fast start was unexpected – particularly from a woman who had arrived in Indian Wells last week in some disarray, wearing heavy strapping on both wrists and struggling with the aftermath of her recent bout of tonsillitis.
Haddad Maia appeared to be discombobulated by the positivity of Raducanu’s early ball-striking and footwork, which saw the Briton stepping forward into the court to open up the angles at every opportunity. That first set was something of a mismatch – and yet Raducanu allowed the momentum to slip away early in the second set.
As she said afterwards, “I dropped my intensity and against such a great opponent like Beatriz, it’s 6-2 before you know it.”
That was indeed the situation. Haddad Maia began to apply her physical strength – she is an imposing figure at 6ft tall with biceps like steel hawsers – and now it was Raducanu doing most of the retrieving.
Raducanu took a bathroom break after the second set. It didn’t appear as if Haddad Maia was especially pleased by the delay, as she had a word with the chair umpire and also seemed to say something to Raducanu when she eventually returned to the court.
But now we saw the best of the match, as both players went after their groundstrokes with aggressive intent. One magnificent rally found Raducanu needing to play six successive overheads as Haddad Maia danced around at the back of the court, sending up lob after lob in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Andy Murray.
Eventually the pressure told on Haddad Maia, who netted a backhand to be broken for 4-3. Now Raducanu was in the driving seat, and she held her nerve superbly despite seeing her first three match points all saved by her gutsy yet eventually disappointed opponent.
After 2hr 20mins of fascinating drama, Raducanu was home by a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 scoreline. This was only the second time since her drive to the US Open title that she had won three matches at the same event, and Indian Wells is a much bigger deal than Seoul (which is where she reached the semi-finals in September before retiring with injury).
Indian Wells also has a much bigger draw – of 96 players as opposed to Seoul’s 32 – so she is only into the last 16. But this win certainly reminded everyone of the qualities that carried her to her stunning title run in New York – namely innate competitiveness, great heart, wonderful athleticism and sound technique.
“I’m extremely happy with the way I fought and hung in in the third set,” said Raducanu afterwards. “I managed to regain my focus and intensity.
“It’s pretty amazing for me. I haven’t really prepared for this tournament. I haven’t really practised. So to come out here and perform at this level and be competitive is a great sign for me.
“I just had two great weeks [of training] back home in London, and to see those coming through and showing on the match court at crucial points sometimes is very exciting to me. Right now, I’m focused on just getting back, resting and recovering for tomorrow, because this was a tough match in the heat.”
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