Emma Raducanu told to ‘work harder’ during defeat by world No 82

Emma Raducanu stretches to play a shot - 'Tired' Emma Raducanu crashes out of Madrid Open against world No 82
Emma Raducanu looked undercooked and fatigued during her shock defeat in the Spanish capital - Getty Images/Mateo Villalba

Emma Raducanu’s unpredictable season continued to swing from lows to highs and back again as she went down by a 6-2, 6-2 scoreline in the first round of the Madrid Open to Maria Lourdes Carle, a 24-year-old Argentine with just one previous WTA Tour victory to her name.

While the nature of tennis is that you will win some and lose some, it was still surprising to see Raducanu’s form dip so dramatically. On Thursday, she took world No 1 Iga Swiatek to a tie-break in Stuttgart. Today, she was dismantled by a total unknown.

The level of Raducanu’s play was so lamentable that even Anne Keothavong, who is her Billie Jean King Cup captain and thus predisposed to be tactful, was forced to query her effort level on Sky Sports’ coverage. “She needs to work one hell of a lot harder,” said Keothavong after a first set in which Raducanu struck two winners and 19 unforced errors.

Emma Raducanu looks down with her hand on her head
Raducanu seems to be paying the price for her lack of match action - Reuters/Susana Vera

The words that Keothavong kept coming back to in commentary were “tired” and “fatigued”. Wednesday’s match was Raducanu’s first in Madrid but her sixth in 12 days since she began her clay-court swing in Le Portel. This might not sound like an overwhelming tally, but Raducanu remains physically undercooked by the standards of her rivals.

“I’m going to recharge a bit. From the performance today it was very clear that mentally and emotionally, I was exhausted. It’s a shame, but I guess the sport is just pretty brutal,” Raducanu said.

The comparison with her opponent is an interesting one, for Carle – a workmanlike player with a milk-float of a second serve – has got through more than 70 matches in each of the last three seasons. Admittedly, these matches have almost exclusively taken place on the second-tier ITF circuit. But Carle is still a hardened competitor with miles in her legs.

If we then turn to Raducanu, her top level is clearly on a different plane to Carle’s, yet she has played just 66 matches in the two-and-a-half years since she won the US Open. She has yet to show that she can handle the relentlessness of the WTA Tour.

We could have deduced that this was going to be a match to forget when Raducanu opened by losing the first seven points, all to unforced errors. There were four wayward forehands, one loose backhand, and two double-faults. This alarming start established a pattern of sub-standard service games that saw her hold serve only twice in eight attempts.

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain returns a forehand
Raducanu looks like she needs to put in some extra shifts in the gym before the French Open - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Madrid can be a notoriously tricky place to play, because it stands almost half a mile above sea level. In thinner air, you have to work twice as hard to stop the ball from flying long. And Raducanu, as Keothavong pointed out, was not in a patient mood.

She began to middle a few more shots towards the end of the match, but every time she applied a little pressure, another slapped forehand would fly long.

Raducanu’s coach Nick Cavaday was not present for this match, which may not have helped. After this chastening loss to the world No 82, her priority should be to recharge physically.

We do not know where Raducanu is playing next, as her ranking of No 221 is too low to get into WTA events without a wild card. But there must be a case for squeezing in some more weeks in the gym ahead of a possible tilt at the French Open in late May.