Emma Raducanu puffed out her cheeks and turned her focus to what comes next after an early end to her US Open title defence.
Having not lost a set in 10 matches at Flushing Meadows last year, Raducanu was unable to find the same form 12 months on in an admittedly very tricky first-round assignment against Alize Cornet and fell to a 6-3 6-3 defeat.
With her cap pulled low over her face, the 19-year-old did not shy away from her disappointment in a measured post-match press conference but also tried to see the bright side of her ranking falling to around 80.
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While she will never be an anonymous tour grinder, the expectation now will be a little lower, the target on her back a little smaller, and the way forward presenting possibilities rather than pitfalls.
“Obviously it would have been great to defend the title,” said Raducanu, who expects to play smaller WTA events for the rest of the season.
“But I want new experiences. In a way I’ve kind of done that, so I want another tournament. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I think any player would be happy to win a tournament.”
The normal rules do not apply in women’s tennis at the moment. Of the 15 current and former grand slam champions in the women’s draw, only three were seeded in the top 10 in New York while six were unseeded.
Even all-time greats like Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic had lengthy gaps between their first and second grand-slam titles, while Raducanu could look to Cornet, who is having the best slam season of her career at 32.
Former world number one Mats Wilander, who is working as a pundit for Eurosport, said: “I don’t see much of a difference from Emma this year compared to last year, except she was just confident and other players were scared to play her.
“It’s obviously a surprise that the defending champion goes out but, at the same time, she’s been on tour for a year and two months. It’s not a worry to me at all.
“In fact, I think this is a very, very important step in her career that defending this title is over and she can now focus on her tennis, and trying to get (her) ranking up in a normal way.
She gave us a historic run last summer.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 31, 2022
“Emma is good, but she’s not great. She had a lot of confidence last year, and she is a fighter, and she plays well.
“The only thing I don’t know is, I feel like she hasn’t quite found her identity as a player. Is she a bit of a risk taker? Does she play really aggressively? Or does she use her movement skills, and dial back a little bit and play with a little bit of variation?”
She has plenty of time to work those things out but again finds herself in the position of having to decide who to guide her.
Raducanu has been without a permanent coach since splitting from Torben Beltz in April. She has been trialling Russian Dmitry Tursunov, and there have been some encouraging signs, but she declined to say on Tuesday whether she was considering making the arrangement long term.
Just as important if not more so is her off-court work, with Raducanu physically well behind her peers as a legacy of finishing her schooling.
Niggling injury and illness certainly has not helped her this year, and trying to avoid that in future will be a key priority.
“If I look at how much tennis I played this year, or training I’ve done, it’s very, very minimal,” she said.
“We actually counted the days. From Rome to a bit after Wimbledon, I only played tennis for 14 days in two months and a half or something. It was pretty wild.
“Six weeks of training, already I feel like I’m so much better as a player. I definitely feel like I am growing in confidence.
“I think the most important thing for me is just consistency of these weeks, of training, of competing. You lose a match, you’re on the practice court two days later.”
Raducanu is next scheduled to compete in Korea next month, and hopes she can quickly put this loss behind her.
“In the past, I would get really, really down because I wasn’t used to losing,” she said. “I think this year has definitely helped in a way.
“I know I can’t really mourn over a loss. I kind of got better at just picking myself back up quicker and quicker. But this one obviously hurts a bit because it’s my favourite tournament and obviously a lot of emotions in the past year.
“I’m proud for putting myself out there every match, every day. I know I’m pushing myself to be the best I can.”