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"Not about the Xs and Os": Emma Raducanu overcomes Polona Hercog in three sets, now 1-1 after pristine US Open
Tracy Austin watched as a fellow teen Flushing Meadows phenom dealt with a byproduct of a Grand Slam breakthrough: the follow-up.
Published Oct 26, 2021
Tennis Channel Live: Tracy Austin on Emma Raducanu's stop in Romania
Emma Raducanu was ranked 150th in the world when she attempted to qualify for the US Open’s main draw about two months ago. When she inexplicably won the tournament, her ranking catapulted to No. 23. But the 18-year-old may as well be the world No. 1, given how much—justifiable—attention has been put upon her since. It was a Cinderella run that would have impressed both Cinderella and her conniving stepsisters.
“I’ve lived all of that,” said Tracy Austin during Raducanu’s first-round match at the Transylvania Open in Romania. Austin, who won the 1979 US Open at 16, remains the youngest champion in tournament history. “But it was slow, gradual progression. Some time to get used to each level. For a week, for a month—whatever it was.
“She raced through all of those levels in three weeks.”
In the weeks that have followed her sudden ascent into superstardom, Raducanu has secured endorsement deals befitting Serena Williams and Roger Federer, played tennis with the Duchess of Cambridge, and experienced many other wonderful things you and I never will. She has also struggled in the two matches she’s played on tour—the first to 100th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich at Indian Wells (a 6-2, 6-4 loss) and, today, to 124th-ranked Polona Hercog, in Cluj-Napoca (a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 win).
The Brit got off to a fine start against the 30-year-old Slovenian, who had not won a tour-level match since August and who had not beaten a player inside the Top 100 since early June. But after swiftly collecting the first three games, Raducanu dropped six of the next seven to fall behind by a set. Her smooth, almost carefree power that lit up New York City was there, but only in patches.
After a game-opening error at 1-1 in the second set, Austin—uniquely qualified to commentate on Raducanu’s match—said what was both obvious and insightful: “So much to me is not about the Xs and Os and the hitting right now, it's what's going on between Emma's ears.”
Raducanu posed a far greater challenge to Hercog from there. On serve at 2-1, Raducanu earned a break point, though she missed her chance. Returning at 4-3, she battled to deuce, but Hercog won the next two points off unforced errors. Hercog pushed Raducanu to deuce at 4-4, but the teen sewed up the game with two unreturned serves.
Hercog, who ran every ball down and showed a impressive ability to turn defense into offense, continued to offer her own resistance. Raducanu held serve for 6-5, but not before facing a break point. But in withstanding Hercog's push, Raducanu was seemingly rewarded with a surge of her own. She earned three set points in the 12th game with composure and command, and converted the third with a Hercog overhit.
From composure and command came confidence. Raducanu was now in a third set, but it was in effect a new match—a best-of-one, with the slate wiped clean, early stumbles long forgotten.
Her two-handed backhands were as elegantly effective as ever. She was going for her shots, rather than ceding them to her opponent. She took a 3-0 lead for the second time—but this time, she made it stand.
What was most impressive to Austin?
"Just her fight," she said. "Never was negative, kept playing the next point—just fighting can get you a long way."
Raducanu showed just how true that statement was at the US Open, where she didn't drop a single set. But was also true today, in a completely different world, after she had lost her third consecutive set since her major moment.