After days of speculation following Emma Raducanu around the grounds of the Caja Mágica, this time about the merits of her unusual perspective on coaching in light of her decision to part ways with her coach Torben Beltz after five months, the 19-year-old’s clay -court education resumed with an excellent win on her Madrid Open debut.
Having trailed 2-5 in the opening set then twice standing set point down, Raducanu showcased her adaptability and mental fortitude as she methodically turned the match on its head, eventually registering a convincing 7-6 (3), 6-0 win over Tereza Martincova to reach the second round.
The match-up was a second meeting between the pair this month, with Raducanu pulling off a gritty win against Martincova in her first professional match on clay at the Billie Jean King Cup. But while the faster conditions at altitude in Madrid are preferential for Raducanu, they also suited Martincova. The Czech served extremely well, imposed consistent pressure on Raducanu with her forehand and she was extremely clean for most of the opening set.
But not all of it. As in Prague, Raducanu produced her best tennis when she most needed it. This time, she completely changed her approach under pressure. Not only did she begin to load up her shots with more top-spin, adding margin into her game, moving further behind the baseline and eliciting errors from Martincova with her consistency, she also embraced the clay with her offensive game.
Having started the match attacking inside the baseline, looking to change directions down the line, essentially playing as if on a hard court, Raducanu began to work the points with width and angle, slowly dragging Martincova off the court. In the attritional rallies that followed, Raducanu’s greater athleticism was so often the difference late in the exchanges.
Across the net, all opposition quickly crumbled. After saving the set points, leveling the opening set at 5-5 and then harnessing her momentum into an excellent tie-break, Raducanu ran with the match, winning 11 of the last 12 games to seal victory. Such a thoughtful performance was an apt demonstration of why Raducanu is so confident in her ability to read and understand the game, and why she does not think she needs a prominent coach to guide her at all times. It was also a glimpse into how she might adapt her game to find consistent success on clay in the future as her experience grows on the surface.
Raducanu will next face Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, a fellow 19-year-old she grew up playing against as a junior. “All throughout juniors she was always the favorite when we played. She was considered much better,” said Raducanu. “Yeah, it’s a funny one. When we played last year she played very good, but also I wasn’t very well that day. So it’ll be an interesting match-up.”
Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka returned to clay with a promising victory as she recovered from a break down to comfortably defeat Anastasia Potapova 6-3, 6-1.
In the men’s event, which begins on Sunday, Andy Murray has been dealt a fascinating first-round draw against former US Open champion Dominic Thiem.
While Murray is a surprise wildcard entering Madrid after initially planning to skip the entire clay court season, Thiem is returning to tennis after a disastrous year stemming from a serious wrist injury then numerous setbacks. He is yet to win a match after three tournaments back.