Emma Raducanu dumped out of Qatar Open first round in straight sets
Emma Raducanu had a tough time getting back on track after her injury as she struggled to find her form and groove. Unfortunately, she got off to a terrible start and ended up losing 6-0, 7-6 (6) against Anhelina Kalinina, who is ranked 30th in the world, in the Qatar Open's opening round.
Raducanu, ranked as the 262nd player, came to Doha for the second stage of the prolonged Middle Eastern tour after an impressive performance in Abu Dhabi last week. She was able to advance to the second round with a great victory against Marie Bouzkova, ranked as the 36th player, with a score of 6-4, 6-1, which was one of her best wins since the start of 2023. Nonetheless, she was expectedly overpowered by Ons Jabeur, who holds the sixth rank, in the second round.
Raducanu found it difficult to play well in the slow and windy conditions in Doha against a tough opponent. From the start, the 21-year-old had trouble hitting the ball where she wanted and made many unforced errors. Meanwhile, Kalinina tirelessly chased after every ball, prolonging rallies and working hard from the back of the court. The Ukrainian won the first set easily, making only 2 unforced errors compared to Raducanu's 15.
In the second set, Raducanu started off poorly by double-faulting on break point to be behind 0-6, 0-1. However, she gradually got comfortable by moving closer to the court and hitting the ball early with both hands to dominate the rallies. Immediately, Raducanu broke back the opponent, and then she got into the flow on her service, and showed resilience in an intense 3-3 service game where she prevented five break points with four impressive winners and one ace.
At a critical point in the match, Raducanu made some errors and gave away a break. This gave Kalinina the advantage, and she had a chance to close out the match with two match points. However, Raducanu fought back and saved the first match point with the help of an error from Kalinina. On the second match point, Raducanu hit an incredible forehand down the line to stay in the game. She then broke Kalinina's serve and forced a tie-break. Raducanu had a set point at 6-5 in the tie-break, but Kalinina played some amazing points to win the next three and take the victory.
Though Raducanu's performance started off disastrously, she did end up putting up a good fight. During the second set, her hits were quite beautiful and she was a much cleaner and stronger striker than her opponent. However, in order to succeed in this level of competition, she needs to improve her consistency point-by-point and make fewer mistakes, especially when it comes to her unpredictable forehand wing.
It's tough to find your rhythm when you take a long break from something, and it usually takes a while to get back into the groove. However, Raducanu's approach is interesting - instead of starting fresh and building up her skills at a lower level, like playing in the WTA 250 event in Cluj last week, she's chosen to take wildcards into bigger, more challenging tournaments. Even if she had won against Kalinina, she would have faced an even tougher opponent in the second round - the No. 8 seed Jelena Ostapenko, who's in great form and would have been expected to win.
In the previous year, Elina Svitolina was recognized as the WTA comeback player of the year after finishing the 2023 season. Even though she had been considered a top player for a longer time than the 2021 US Open victor, Svitolina chose to compete in the ITF Circuit after taking a break due to maternity. This helped her gain a footing, and she secured a notable win in the Strasbourg WTA 250 event without facing any top-40 rivals. This victory against weaker opponents boosted her confidence, enabling her to play against the best players. As for Raducanu, her opponents' quality hindered her from gaining a consistent rhythm, even when she played well.
The WTA has made it even harder to play in smaller events by changing their calendar. ATP players have more options with three tournaments each week in February, while the WTA focuses on larger events. This week, the only event on the WTA is the Qatar Open, which is a WTA 1000, and there are only two WTA 250s this month. Raducanu may receive a wildcard for the WTA 1000 event in Dubai next week, but she will face a tough challenge against the top players in the world.