Emma Raducanu arrived in Linz with the simple goal of gaining more experience and matchplay in her final week of an unimaginably intense year, but she was unable to avoid that enormous, growing target on her back.
Starting, illogically, as the top seed in just her seventh WTA event, Raducanu fought until the end but succumbed to a tough opponent and injury in the final games, losing 6-1, 6-7 (0), 7-5 to Wang Xinyu of China in the second round of the Upper Austria Ladies Linz.
As in the Transylvania Open, when she lost heavily to her fellow teenager Marta Kostyuk, Raducanu was facing a contemporary who enjoyed a more spectacular junior career. Before their meeting, Wang cited Raducanu’s US Open win as an inspiration for young players and for all Chinese players due to Raducanu’s heritage.
While Raducanu awaited her first opponent after receiving a first-round bye, Wang had come through qualifying, winning three matches to reach Raducanu. Wang carried all of that momentum and intensity to the contest and the defining factor of the opening set was her blinding performance.
Despite Raducanu’s attempts to assert herself in the early, intense exchanges, Wang controlled the baseline, dictating with her forehand and rushing her with deep, aggressive returns throughout the set. As Raducanu struggled to control her own forehand in the high-octane rallies, a common thread in her last couple of losses, Wang finished off a polished set with her 12th and 13th winners, and just three unforced errors.
But even as she struggled to win games, Raducanu was fully invested. She fought through multiple deuces in the end of the opening set, then she immediately broke to start the second set. As she tried to hold on to her service games, she became increasingly animated, roaring after her winning points and mouthing “fight” to herself between rallies.
After Raducanu slipped a backhand into the net at 4-3 to give back her serve, the momentum flipped again but she kept herself in contention and forced a tiebreak. Wang’s level had significantly dropped throughout the second set and with the match truly in the balance, Raducanu was able to take control. She played an excellent tie-break, ending it with a sweet, sliding ace out wide.
The third set saw both women competing at a solid level. After four swift holds from both, Raducanu fell down 0-30 on her serve at 2-2 before smoothly recovering to hold an unreturned serve. But Raducanu began to limp and struggle with her right thigh and she lost her serve to love.
Raducanu called the trainer at 4-5 in the third set, and it was fair to assume that she had little more to give. Wrong. Raducanu fought through a long final deuce game, drilling a forehand down-the-line winner as she levelled the set at 5-5. She gave everything, but as Wang began to move her around, including one cute drop shot, it was all too much. Wang broke serve once more, and at her second opportunity she closed out the match.
Raducanu finishes a breakout season with a 2-3 record since her US Open triumph. In Cluj-Napoca, she was fatigued and in Linz her body sent a similar message. She will have time to take a break, then to start work with her new coach before her first full season on the tour.
In Stockholm, Andy Murray advanced to the second round of his final tournament of the year with a 6-1 7-6 (7) win over Viktor Durasovic, a 354-ranked ATP debutant who had moved through qualifying. Murray now has a far loftier challenge in his second round match against Jannik Sinner, the top seed.