Emma Raducanu’s four biggest areas of concern ahead of Australian Open

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While previously we have seen Raducanu wear down her opponents, forcing them into defensive mode as she finds her range down the line, she rarely dictated any of the points against Rybakina. 

There was a moment at 4-0 down in the first set where she found her groove briefly, taking returns early and defending well – even whipping a passing shot on the run beyond Rybakina’s reach – to get back to deuce.

But Rybakina was not hanging about. Raducanu never really got to grips with how to read her serve, and Rybakina was finishing points as swiftly as possible to prevent her teenage opponent from finding any momentum.

While Rybakina got her tactics all right, Raducanu will reflect on the match and wonder why she didn’t play more to her strengths – in particular she hit only four forehand winners throughout, a weapon that has been so effective previously. 

She was already wise to that statistic immediately after the match though, with a video circulating of her returning to the practice court to relentlessly hit forehands with coach Torben Beltz.

Shackling her inner-nerves

After the match, Raducanu insisted nerves did not play a part, and put the loss down to a lack of time on court as well as Rybakina’s fine form. 

All that may be true but the pressure of being the reigning US Open champion is no small target to carry on your back. Players have sussed out her game at this stage, so adapting to that still relatively new experience is key. 

Her attitude though, considering this was such a tough loss in terms of scoreline, was commendable. While disappointed post-match, Raducanu’s feet have remained firmly on the ground. “At the end of the day I just want to keep putting myself out there,” she said. “Even if I keep getting knocked down, it’s just about getting back up and basically just falling in front. You’re one step better. You learn more. And also, I’m just at the start of my first season. I think one of my goals is not to get too down or too high. It’s to just try and keep a steady progress and tracking upwards hopefully.”

At the Transylvania Open in October she was also beaten within the hour-mark by fellow teenager Marta Kostyuk. But whereas there she looked lethargic and lacking in motivation – and later admitted to feeling unwell – on court against Rybakina she hustled to the finish line, managed a smile and first pump when she finally won a game and verbally willed herself to “fight, Emma, fight!”

The footage of her on the practice court after the match, hunched over Beltz’s phone to analyse videos of her serving before determinedly going about making corrections, is a sure sign Raducanu is far from down and out. She is still learning how to compete at this level, and a humbling like the one she received from Rybakina was a stark reminder of that for everyone.

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