Raducanu’s US Open title defence ends in first round, Osaka out while giant-killing qualifiers continue rampage
Big names continue to fall in the first round of the season’s final Grand Slam, the US Open.
Emma Raducanu, who made a dream run to the US Open title in 2021, suffered a nightmare 6-3 6-3 first-round loss to Frenchwoman Alize Cornet on Tuesday as the clock finally struck midnight on an improbable tennis fairytale.
But she wasn’t the only big name to fall as two-time US Open winner Naomi Osaka also lost in the first round.
After missing the entire North American hard-court season, American Danielle Collins showed no signs of rust battling past Osaka 7-6(5) 6-3 and into the second round at Flushing Meadows.
Both players also came to New York on the comeback trail after injury-interrupted campaigns.
Raducanu, though, was in good health. In 2021 she captivated the sporting world when she became the first qualifier to claim a Grand Slam, winning 10 matches in New York without dropping a set. It catapulted her career into the stratosphere and made her one of the most marketable athletes on the planet.
Twelve months ago, Raducanu arrived at her opening match an unknown with no expectations or pressure. But on Tuesday the 19-year-old sometimes appeared to be carrying the weight of the world on her slender shoulders.
Not only was Raducanu defending her one and only title but a massive 2,040 of her 2,756 ranking points and with those gone the world No 11 will drop out of the top 70 and back having to qualify for some events or depend on wildcards.
But the loss, said Raducanu, has also brought freedom and a clean slate that will allow her to reconstruct her game and career without unrealistic expectations.
“Obviously really disappointing, really sad to leave here,” Raducanu told the media after the match, her face partially hidden by a baseball cap pulled tight to her eyes. “But also, in a way, happy because it’s a clean slate.
“I’m going to drop down the rankings. Climb my way back up. In a way the target will be off my back slightly.”
Raducanu endured a difficult first full year on Tour with injuries and poor form limiting her match wins, with each early exit bringing increased scrutiny.
Still just 19, Raducanu will now be able to grow into her career and if that means playing lower-level events, then that is what she will do.
“I can just start again,” she said. “I don’t know what my ranking will be. Probably pretty low down.
“I think it would be nice in a way to kind of just start over, start fresh. Any player would be happy to win a tournament. It makes a massive difference no matter what the level is.”
Raducanu got her defence off to a positive start, breaking Cornet at the first opportunity, but the crafty French veteran, making a record 63rd consecutive Grand Slam appearance, immediately broke back.
The players traded breaks a second time before Cornet broke the young Briton a third time to get in front 5-3 and hold serve to secure the 1-0 lead.
The 11th seed becomes the first defending US Open champion to lose in the first round since Germany’s Angelique Kerber in 2017.
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“I’m just handling my emotions better – that’s it,” said Cornet. “I guess I’m getting old. I’m getting more mature. I’m 32 so it’s better late than never.”
Nadal downs wildcard Hijikata
Men’s second seed Rafael Nadal overcame an early scare to down 21-year-old Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-3 in his first appearance at the US Open after winning in 2019.
Playing in only his second match after pulling out of Wimbledon with an abdominal injury, the Spaniard had speculated whether he was ready to take on New York and seemed to confirm those fears as he struggled on the return in the first set.
Hijikata incredibly broke the 22-times major winner with a crisp overhead shot in the seventh game of his Grand Slam debut. But it was Goliath who got the momentum over David under the bright lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, as the fighter Nadal charged through the first three games of the second set.
Nadal improved in virtually every respect as his opponent’s form deteriorated, dropping just one of his first-serve points with few mistakes, as Hijikata racked up a dozen unforced errors and dropped his serve in the final game.
Thriving on familiar territory, the four-time Flushing Meadows winner Nadal never faced a break in the third set and broke Hijikata to love in the fifth game of the final set before recovering from 0-40 in the eighth to hold his own serve.
Hijikata gave the rowdy New York crowd a final thrill as he defended four match points in the ninth before succumbing to Nadal’s vicious forehand winner.
“Long wait – for some time I thought that maybe I will not be able to be back,” Nadal said in an on-court interview after the match. “The night sessions here in New York are the best without a doubt.”
Rybakina and Venus lose in first round
Frenchwoman Clara Burel joined the growing list of giant-killing qualifiers at this year’s US Open as she toppled Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-4 6-4 in the first round on Tuesday.
Hot on the heels of Ukrainian Daria Snigur’s win over twice Grand Slam winner Simona Halep and Colombian Daniel Galan’s triumph over fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 131st ranked Burel produced an assured display to eliminate Rybakina.
Kazakhstan’s Rybakina squandered six of the seven break points she earned in the first set as she racked up 19 unforced errors.
Venus Williams made a quiet exit from the singles on Tuesday after losing 6-1 7-6(5) to Belgian Alison van Uytvanck in front of a half-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The subdued scene was in stark contrast to what unfolded on Monday. A raucous, star-studded crowd filled the world’s biggest tennis venue to cheer on her younger sibling Serena to a 6-3 6-3 win over Danka Kovinić in her Flushing Meadows opener.
Serena had signalled her intention to retire in a Vogue article in early August, saying she was “evolving away from tennis” but never confirming the US Open as her final event.
That timing mattered little to the US Tennis Federation which turned the evening into a prime-time Serena love-in with speeches, video montages and best wishes for the future.
In contrast, Venus exited to polite applause and no fanfare.
“I definitely watched it,” said Venus when asked about her sister’s elaborate farewell ceremony. “I wanted to be there, but I obviously had an early start today.” Reuters/DM