Emma Raducanu’s disappointment in losing to Coco Gauff at the Australian Open was tempered by pride that she had defied injury to push a high-class opponent.
The British number one revealed after the 6-3 7-6 (4) defeat in her debut on Rod Laver Arena that she was odds-on to miss the tournament having suffered an ankle injury in Auckland less than a fortnight ago.
She recovered sufficiently to beat Tamara Korpatsch in the first round and may well have given seventh seed Gauff a real scare had she taken one of two set points in the second set.
“I think it was always going to be a tough match and a tough challenge to play against Coco,” said Raducanu, who was trying to beat a top-10 player for the first time.
“She’s a great opponent, great athlete. But it was a good experience to be out there on Rod Laver. I think in the beginning it took some adjusting to. But it’s such a nice court, and I’m happy to have had a match on that now so, next time, if I come back and play again on that court, I’ll be more familiar.”
Raducanu set her stall out early with an aggressive approach, going after Gauff’s serve when she could, but it was from 2-4 in the second set where she really began to show something like the form that carried her to the US Open title.
She got on top from the baseline, with her backhand particularly effective, and created two chances on the Gauff serve at 5-4 only to make mistakes on both of them.
Ultimately, there were too many errors from Raducanu – 42 in total – and Gauff’s defensive skills proved crucial in opening up a 6-2 lead in the tie-break.
“She puts another ball in play, so you feel like you have to squeeze it closer to the line and then she kind of teases errors out of you that way,” said Raducanu.
“But I think I had a lot of chances today. So it obviously sucks a bit, but it’s fine.”
The match between the two most high-profile young stars in women’s tennis was given prime-time billing and, although the quality was patchy, the big crowd was drawn in and it was a reminder of both players’ X factor.
“I’d really like to play her again,” said Raducanu. “I think that maybe with more than five hours under my belt of practice.
“She’s a great opponent, and I think that we’re going to be playing each other many times in the future as we’re both young and coming, we’re going to be the next generation.”
Having put in many hours in the gym over the off-season to try to avoid the sort of injury problems that plagued her last year, Raducanu was hugely frustrated to roll her ankle in just her second match.
She opened up about the extent of the issue, saying: “I would say all the chips were against us and the chances of me playing this tournament were very, very low.
“I think 13 days ago, if you would have told us, ‘Hey, you’re going to be in the draw and win a round’, it would have been a massive effort for sure. Saying that, I still think I didn’t necessarily play my best today. I felt like I could have done better.”
Raducanu declined to say whether she had also picked up an abdominal problem during the match having been seen touching her stomach but she will prioritise more physical work before returning to the match court.
“I just have to review the body right now,” she said. “I’ve had some niggles in the past few months, and I just need to get that sorted, train, and then we’ll see after that.
“I’m really buying into and trusting the work that I’m doing with (new coach) Sebastian (Sachs) and the rest of the team. So I’m feeling good and confident that, in six months’ time, I know it’s not going to be the finished product, but hopefully I would have made strides.”
Gauff can relate to the weight of expectation on Raducanu’s shoulders and, having vowed to be patient with herself as she chases a first grand slam title, feels the same should be true of her opponent.
“If we didn’t play tennis, we’re just normal teenagers living our life,” she said. “If we made a mistake, people would say, ‘You’re just 20, you’re 18 years old, you can bounce back’. I think people need to relate that to tennis, as well.”
Although Gauff is ranked 70 places higher than Raducanu, she had expected a tough contest and was impressed by the way the 20-year-old improved through the match.
“She raised her level a lot towards the end of the second set,” said Gauff. “It takes a lot of resilience to do that, especially on the big stages and the big matches.”