NEW YORK – Maybe it makes sense that Emma Raducanu would try to find something positive from becoming only the third woman in the professional era to lose in the U.S. Open’s first round one year after winning the championship.
Maybe, too, it seems like a bit of a stretch.
Still, whether she was trying to convince others or herself, that was how Raducanu spoke about moving on from bowing out 6-3, 6-3 against Alizé Cornet on Tuesday night in her opening match at Flushing Meadows in 2022 following that remarkable run to the trophy as an unseeded 18-year-old qualifier in 2021.
“It is a clean slate. I can just start again. I don’t know what my ranking will be. Probably pretty low down,” Raducanu said. “With perspective, actually, as a 19-year-old, I’ve had not a bad year. To be top 100, if you told me that a year ago, I’d take it. But, like, I think it would be nice, in a way, to kind of just start over, start fresh.”
The other defending champions who went home this quickly at the American Grand Slam tournament were Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won it in 2004, and Angelique Kerber, who won it in 2016 (and lost in the first round in 2017 to Naomi Osaka, who had yet to win any of her four major trophies).
Raducanu said she was disappointed to join that small group.
She also sounded somewhat relieved.
“I mean, in a way,” said the British player, who is 15-19 since her triumph in New York, “the target will be off my back slightly.”
Raducanu dealt with blisters on her racket-holding right hand, as she had earlier this year, and took a medical timeout after the first set for treatment from a trainer.
She also was simply outplayed by Cornet, a 32-year-old from France who beat past major champions Simona Halep at the Australian Open, Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open and Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon, ending the No. 1-ranked woman’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon.
“This year I’m kind of the upset girl. I pull out an upset on every Slam,” the 40th-ranked Cornet said after disrupting her opponent with a constantly shifting mix of defense, strokes that pushed Raducanu deep behind the baseline and well-placed drop shots. “I was like, ‘OK, I did it on the three previous Grand Slams, so why not this one?’”
Now add Raducanu to the list.
“I’m sorry, guys. I know you really like Emma,” Cornet told the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium. “She’s a great player and a great person.”
A year ago, at age 18, Raducanu arrived at Flushing Meadows ranked 150th to participate in only the second major tournament of her nascent career. She wound up making it through qualifying and winning 10 matches in a row — all in straight sets — en route to becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title, defeating another unseeded teen, Leylah Fernandez, in the final.
Raducanu came into the U.S. Open seeded 11th after second-round losses at each of the first three majors of 2022.
“She didn’t win a Slam for nothing,” Cornet said. “I know how she can play.”
Cornet is playing in her record-setting 63rd consecutive Grand Slam event. She's only reached the quarterfinals at one of them — this year's Australian Open.
But she also owns six victories over opponents ranked in the top 20 this season.
“I'm handling my emotions better,” said Cornet, who actually was angered when the Armstrong roof was closed during the course of play early in the second set. “I guess I'm getting old. I'm getting mature. ... It's good, because I'm 32. I guess it's better late than never.”
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