Emma Raducanu, the British No 7, was knocked out of the Qatar Open in the first round by Anhelina Kalinina, the world No 30, in straight sets on Monday. The 21-year-old, who is making her comeback from a long injury layoff, was outplayed by the Ukrainian in a 6-0, 7-6 (6) defeat.
Raducanu, who stunned the tennis world by winning the US Open in 2022, had missed most of 2023 after undergoing surgery on both of her hands and left ankle. She returned to action in Auckland earlier this year, where she won one match, and then reached the second round of the Australian Open.
However, she has struggled to find her form and confidence against the higher-ranked opponents in the Middle East swing. Last week, she lost in the second round of Abu Dhabi to Ons Jabeur, the No 6 seed, in a one-sided match.
Raducanu off to a dismal start in windy conditions
In Doha, Raducanu faced another tough challenge in Kalinina, who has been in good form this season, reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open and the quarter-finals of Abu Dhabi. The Briton looked nervous and rusty from the outset, making 15 unforced errors in the first set, while Kalinina was solid and consistent.
The Ukrainian raced through the first set in 24 minutes, breaking Raducanu three times and not facing a single break point. Raducanu could not find her range or timing on her shots, and was often pushed back by Kalinina’s deep and powerful groundstrokes.
Raducanu fights back in the second set but falls short in the tie-break
The second set was more competitive, as Raducanu finally started to show some signs of life. She broke back immediately after losing her serve in the first game, and then held her own in some long and intense rallies. She saved five break points in a crucial seventh game, and then had a chance to serve for the set at 5-4.
However, she could not convert, and Kalinina broke back to level the score. The Ukrainian then held serve and earned two match points in the next game, but Raducanu saved them with a forehand winner and a forced error. She then broke Kalinina again to force a tie-break.
In the tie-break, Raducanu had a set point at 6-5, but Kalinina saved it with a brilliant backhand down the line. The Ukrainian then won the next two points with aggressive play, sealing the match after an hour and 38 minutes.
Raducanu admits she struggled with everything in the match
After the match, Raducanu was candid about her performance, saying she struggled with everything in the match, from her serve to her forehand to her backhand. She also blamed the windy conditions and the lack of match practice for her poor showing.
“I was struggling with everything – serve, return, forehand, backhand,” Raducanu told Sky Sports. “I felt like I never really got into it.”
“It was combination of things,” she added. “It was my first day-match I have played in a year. That is different. I need to practise training outside a bit more. The lights, conditions, shadows… it is really hard to see the ball, I found towards the end.”
“When my tennis isn’t there I have to try and at least fight and I did that in the second set.”
Raducanu said she will now return home after consecutive weeks on tour, but said she needs to schedule her tournaments better and get more matches under her belt.
“It is hard for me to get used to the tour schedule. It is one tournament then another straight away. I need to schedule my tournamnents a bit better and try to get more matches under my belt.”
Kalinina advances to face Ostapenko in the second round
Kalinina, who hit 22 winners and 22 unforced errors in the match, was pleased with her win, saying she played well in the first set and fought hard in the second. She praised Raducanu for her comeback in the second set, but said she was happy to close out the match in the tie-break.
“I think I played really good in the first set, I was very solid and consistent. In the second set, she started to play better, she was more aggressive and confident. She had some chances to win the set, but I’m happy I could stay focused and win the tie-break,” Kalinina said.
Kalinina will face Jelena Ostapenko, the No 8 seed and former French Open champion, in the second round. The Latvian beat Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-2 in her opening match.
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