Tennis

Cincinnati | Raducanu blitzes Azarenka, Pegula next…

Emma Raducanu blitzed former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka, 6-0 6-2, in just 62 minutes on the centre court at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Wednesday, continuing the same impeccable form with which she had dismissed 23-time singles Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in her opening round.

I think I’ve realised in the last year that people are going to talk regardless of what you do. And, you know, things that I do, are maybe more amplified because of my situation. I’ve just learned to really kind of zone in internally and, like today and yesterday, I didn’t really show any emotion, and then I didn’t, you know, let myself get high or low. I was just like one level and I think that helped. Emma Raducanu

It was another poised and dominant performance from the 19-year old British No 1, against the Belarusian World No 22, who is considered a hard-court specialist, having won the Australian Open twice and reached the final of the US Open three times, in 2012, 2013 and 2020.

“I was playing a great match for sure and, to play Vika, I had to stay focused throughout,” said Raducanu in a post-match on court interview. “In the second set I could feel the important moments, and a couple of turning points that could have made the second set really difficult.

“I am really pleased with how I dug in and, serving it out in that last game, was really difficult.”

Raducanu has inflicted 2 bagel sets and dropped just 6 games in her two outings this week on the way to the Round of 16, where she will meet American Jessica Pegula, who rallied for a 6-7(5) 6-1 6-2 win over Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk.

While she has not won a tournament since capturing last year’s US Open at Flushing Meadows as a 150th-ranked qualifier, Raducanu seems to be hitting her stride as she prepares to mount her title defence in New York just over a week’s time.

After committing just one unforced error in her match against Williams, the teenager was again firing on all cylinders as she raced out to 6-0, 4-0 lead before Azarenka, twice a winner of Cincy, managed to hold serve and avoid the embarrassment of a double-bagel exit.

Azarenka has never been double-bagelled in her professional career, and last lost a set to love against Ash Barty last year here in Cincinnati.

Victoria Azarenka lost 11 games in a row before getting on the scoreboard against Emma Raducanu at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio

© Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Looking every inch the player who stunned with her magical run at Flushing Meadows, Raducanu was smooth as silk as she fired 5 aces and unleashed a barrage of winners against her 33-year old opponent.

She flew out of the gate, breaking Azarenka’s opening service game with controlled aggression from the get-go, allowing the Belarusian just a single point first up.

Shaking off a double-fault, Raducanu held her own serve to consolidate her advantage before neutralising Azarenka’s delivery again as it became increasingly wayward, and then raced to a 6-0 first set win, capturing her last two sets in Cincinnati to love.

Effectively dismantling Azarenka’s resolve and morale, Raducanu countered all the Belarusian’s attempts to turn the tide, but slowly the Belarusian imposed more pressure on the Brit’s service games and, after losing 11 games in a row, the former World No 1 eventually got on the scoreboard by holding her own serve for 1-4 in the second set.

Raducanu easily held onto the next game, leaving Azarenka on the brink of exit but, again, the Belarusian held on, and was able to earn a pair of break points to get her back in the running.

Those break chances prodded Raducanu into another gear and, when she got a lucky let-cord on her second serve at deuce, she brought up her first match point.

Azarenka scrambled brilliantly to stay in the fight, but Raducanu remained in control and claimed the match at her second chance to seal her first win over a top 30 player since winning the US Open last year.

“It was really difficult at 15-40, and then the momentum could shift,” she said. “It was another great honour to play Vika because she’s won so many championships and Slams, so it’s just a great opportunity for me to be out here.”

Emma Raducanu dominated Serena Williams to win on Tuesday night at Cincy

@cincytennis/Instagram

Raducanu isn’t paying the critics too much mind these days, and is trying not to get carried away with the praise she receives.

“I think I’ve realised in the last year that people are going to talk regardless of what you do,” she continued.  “And, you know, things that I do, are maybe more amplified because of my situation.

“I’ve just learned to really kind of zone in internally and, like today and yesterday, I didn’t really show any emotion, and then I didn’t, you know, let myself get high or low.

“I was just like one level and I think that helped.”

The Brit surrendered just 2 points in her first 3 service games of the second set, but later dug out from 15-40 down to win the match, striking 18 winners to Azarenka’s 10 on the day, and going 5-for-6 on break points, while firing 5 aces.

Her temporary coach Dmitry Tursunov is back in her player box, the Russian having missed Toronto due to visa issues.

While only on trial, Tursunov seems to be making a difference to Raducanu’s mind-set and tactics on the court.

“We just need to see how we work with each other, how we complement each other,” she said. “That’s it, I guess. It’s too early to tell.”

They are off to an excellent start at the WTA 1000 tournament in Ohio, which is a huge morale-booster for Raducanu, who has struggled in recent months, hampered by fitness issues as she adjusts to the rigours of the senior tour, and arriving in Cincinnati with a record of 11 wins and 14 losses this season.

Former British No 1 Gregg Rusedski hopes the arrangement with Tursunov will help the 19-year-old.

“I’ve seen some improvements in her game actually,” he told Amazon Prime. “I’ve seen areas of her game which seem to be a little bit better. I just hope they stay together for a long period of time.

“It’s about consistency for Emma and if she gets the consistency, she will get back to where she was really threatening at tournaments and at Slams.”

7th-seeded Jessica Pegula, who lost the opening set to Marta Kostyuk from set point up in the 2nd-round of the Western & Southern Open, but dropped only three more games en route to victory on Wednesday, is Emma Raducanu’s next opponent

WTAtennis.com

Raducanu has gone through several coaches since making her break-through last year, as she worked with Nigel Sears when she made it to the 4th round at Wimbledon, while Andrew Richardson was her mentor when she won the US Open.

She only had a short-term agreement with Richardson, and started working with Torben Beltz in November, but they went their separate ways in April, and she has been working with coaches from the LTA on an interim basis since then.

Another former British No 1, Tim Henman, is also backing Raducanu after her stunning return to form, telling Tennis365 that she has what it takes to stun the sporting world again.

“She should get back there [US Open] and really enjoy it,” Henman told Tennis365 at a Play Your Way To Wimbledon event. “What she achieved coming through qualifying to win a Grand Slam was one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen in tennis.

“I was so fortunate to be court side over those three weeks, and she’s had a steep learning curve from there.

“It hasn’t been straight forward and she’s had plenty of adversity, but I’ve been so impressed with her attitude.

“She sometimes gets knocked down, but she dusts herself off and gets straight back up, she embraces those challenges, and she has learned an enormous amount.

“The biggest area is to build up the physical resilience and when she does that, she will go on to achieve more great things in the sport.”

While both of her opponents so far in Cincinnati are nearing the end of their careers, the way Raducanu handled the challenges they presented only reinforces just how strong her future will be.

The 19-year-old will face an even tougher test in the Last 16, though, against the No 7 seed Pegula on Thursday.

Pegula has had a different path through to round 3, receiving a 1st-round bye before dropping the first set to Kostyuk in a tiebreak, and then cruising to make her come-back in 3 sets after a 2 hour 7 minute tussle on Wednesday.

Emma Raducanu is in sparkling form at the WTA 1000 event in Cincinnati

© Dylan Buell/Getty Images

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