Emma Raducanu scored her best victory in 18 months since her US Open triumph, defeating 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 faced the top 20 players only eight times. But you wouldn’t have known it from the way she ripped Haddad Maia from the start, tearing up her opening service game to like and then breaking the Brazilian’s powerful left-handed serve at the first opportunity.
Raducanu’s quick departure was unexpected – especially from a woman who had arrived in Indian Wells last week in some disarray, wearing heavy straps on both wrists and struggling with the aftermath of her recent bout of tonsillitis.
Haddad Maia looked taken aback by the positivity of Raducanu’s early ball strikes and footwork, which saw the Briton stepping upfield to open up the angles at every opportunity. This first set was something of a mismatch – and yet Raducanu let the momentum slip away at the start of the second set.
As she said afterwards, “I lowered my intensity and against such a great opponent like Beatriz it’s 6-2 before you know it.”
Such was the situation. Haddad Maia started applying her physical strength — she’s a towering 6-foot-tall figure with biceps like steel hawsers — and now it was Raducanu doing most of the recovery.
Raducanu took a bathroom break after the second set. It doesn’t appear that Haddad Maia was particularly pleased with the delay, as she had a word with the chair umpire and also appeared to say something to Raducanu when she finally returned to the court.
But now we saw the best of the game as both players continued their groundstrokes with aggressive intent. A magnificent exchange found Raducanu needing to play six successive overheads as Haddad Maia danced around the back of the court, sending lob after lob in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Andy Murray.
Eventually the pressure trickled down to Haddad Maia, who scored a backhand to break for 4-3. Now Raducanu was in charge, and she superbly kept her composure despite her first three match points, all of which were saved by her daring but ultimately disappointed opponent.
After 2:20 of riveting drama, Raducanu was home 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. It was only the second time since her US Open title run that she had won three matches at the same event, and Indian Wells is a much bigger deal than Seoul (where she reached the semi-finals in September before retiring with injury).
Indian Wells also have a much bigger draw – 96 players to Seoul’s 32 – so they’re only in the last 16. But this win certainly reminded everyone of the qualities that led her to her stunning title in New York – namely innate competitiveness, big heart, wonderful athleticism and solid technique.
“I’m extremely happy with how I fought and hung on in the third set,” Raducanu said afterwards. “I managed to regain my concentration and my intensity.
“It’s pretty amazing to me. I didn’t really prepare for this tournament. I haven’t really practiced. So coming here and performing at this level and being competitive is a good sign for me.
“I have just spent two wonderful weeks [of training] back home in London, and seeing those who come through and show up on the pitch at crucial times is very exciting for me at times. Right now I’m focused on coming back, resting and recovering for tomorrow as it was a tough game in the heat.