Her second-round Australian Open defeat ensures a fifth successive grand slam departure at this stage or sooner since her stunning US Open triumph as an 18-year-old. And yet, when the Briton analyses this absorbing first-ever meeting between two of the game’s rising stars, there will be hope and genuine encouragement to build on.
Even beyond her game, a week ago there was not only doubt but serious trepidation surrounding her involvement at Melbourne Park. The tears had flown in Auckland and energy had undoubtedly frittered away in the final hours before her first-round victory over Tamara Korpatsch.
But having erased lingering doubts surrounding the reliability of her left ankle, Raducanu, in defeat, grasped her chance to validate a game not yet tested enough against the elite.
While fleeting, this has been a courageous journey in Melbourne, as parts of her game sparkle and others infuriate. Her character on the court could become a pillar of her quest to at least return to a grand slam final stage in the coming years.
Both players endured a sluggish start, yet it was Gauff who rallied faster and held off Raducanu, scratching and clawing to force a decider, clinching a 6-3 7-6 (4) win after a cagey tie-breaker. But Raducanu outgunned Gauff across an hour and 40 minutes, landing 17 winners to the American’s 13, with her wand of a backhand especially impressive.
Gauff so often forces you into that final shot, surviving on the periphery of the court, yet routinely extending the point. And it ensured doubts started to creep in amid Gauff’s mesmeric spell at each swing of momentum.
Yet Raducanu remained resolute and with a faster start might just have prevailed here. There was the fourth game in the first set to immediately break back and a similar charge evened the contest at four games apiece in the second.
A gritty eight-minute game at 5-4 with Raducanu squandering two set points ought to have broken her, yet there was a laser-like focus shortly after Gauff’s resilience had radiated around Rod Laver Arena.
Immense precision on serve delivered a game to love, especially satisfying under the circumstances. Raducanu must savour how her game mirrored Gauff’s for long spells, while sharpening that ruthless streak, as the American survived too often, resisting twice as many break points with eight in total.
There is surely an exciting future in the months ahead if Raducanu can resist injury, which has seen her play 50 matches less as a professional and only half as many grand slam events. In fact, Gauff underlined experience as a pivotal factor to the outcome. “I stayed calm when I needed to and made the serve when I needed to,” Gauff said. “Held when I needed to. I think that definitely comes with maturity. “I feel like in the past, I would have freaked out in that moment.”
Raducanu felt the need to “squeeze it closer to the line” due to Gauff’s looming presence, which “kind of teases errors out of you that way”, underlining a psychological edge that will only grow with each encounter like this.
Consistency and composure evaded Raducanu here but it is no coincidence this was such a steely display, having consumed Andy Murray’s remarkable five-set triumph over Matteo Berrettini a day earlier.
“I watched four sets of it. It was incredible,” Raducanu said, having paused practice to witness the Scot’s latest gutsy effort. “He is such a role model for everyone in British tennis but also I think on the tour, what he is doing and achieving.”
This defeat stings a little but Raducanu can emerge from this trip down under galvanised and eager to establish herself once more at the top.
Swiatek cruises as Medvedev continues bid for third straight Melbourne final
Iga Swiatek, the hot favourite for the women’s title, overcame Camila Osorio 6-2 6-3 under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.
Victoria Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, progressed with a comfortable 6-1 6-0 win over Nadia Podoroska.
Bianca Andreescu crashed to a 2-6 7-6(7) 6-4 defeat by Cristina Bucsa while Petra Kvitova fell 7-4 6-4 against Anhelina Kalinina and Sloane Stephens was beaten 7-6(2) 6-4 by Anastasia Potapova as Grand Slam champions continued to tumble out.
But Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina returned to the spotlight of John Cain Arena after her Court 13 opener to dispatch Kaja Juvan 6-2 6-1, while 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova beat Clara Burel 6-4 6-1 and 17th seed Jelena Ostapenko survived a three-setter against Anna Bondar.
Daniil Medvedev stayed on course to reach a third successive final at Melbourne Park with another straight-sets victory, as the Russian flexed his muscles to ease past local hope John Millman 7-5 6-2 6-2.
Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas flew past Australian wildcard 6-3 6-0 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena to ease into the third round.
Canadian Denis Shapovalov eased into the third round with a 6-3 7-6(3) 7-5 victory over Taro Daniel of Japan. The 20th seed fired down nine aces and hit 53 winners.
Men’s dark horse Jannik Sinner also swept into the third round, waltzing past Tomas Etcheverry 6-3 6-2 6-2 at John Cain Arena.