As Emma Raducanu After completing her media engagements around 10pm Tuesday night and still digesting all the wonderful moments she experienced that evening, she faced another of the learning experiences that have shaped her past year.
After the euphoria and adrenaline of obliterating Serena Williams in front of her thunderous home crowd, Raducanu was tasked with forgetting it all and moving on quickly, another former No. 1 to come.
She handled the challenge with a commanding, startling ease, and followed up her dismantling of Williams with an even more devastating performance. In just 62 minutes, Raducanu was eviscerated Viktoria Azarenka 6-0, 6-2 to advance to the third round on her debut in Cincinnati. At the most opportune time, with her US Open title defense a tournament away, Raducanu’s confidence continues to grow.
While Raducanu noted the importance of cherishing those moments against players she grew up with when she won Grand Slams, she said she went into both games with full support. “I just had to focus on what I could control and in the points you can’t think about who’s at the other end of the pitch,” she said. “You just have to play the ball.”
During this week, Raducanu has spoken about her intention not to go “too low or high” after moments over the past year when either her exuberance or negativity didn’t help her unlock her best tennis.
“I think I’ve tried a lot of things and this year I think a few games, I’ve lost a lot of games from leadership situations and probably just played too tight,” she said. “I think I’ve just got to swing, and I just said that in those two tournaments, or especially that tournament, I’m just going to swing freely and take that and see what happens.”
One of the most difficult tasks in professional tennis is to secure a big win and stay composed enough to produce tennis of the same quality in subsequent rounds. It was immediately clear there would be no hangover as she broke Azarenka’s serve in the opening game and ran with the lead, hugging the baseline and stalling the Belarusian with her early ball while making few errors.
While Raducanu played extremely well, Azarenka’s performance was appalling. Spraying unforced errors and moving sluggishly, she finished the first set with just four winners to 16 errors in the first set alone. Previously, Raducanu said she wants to be “stingy” with her game and not grant opponents free points, and she lived that stinginess to the fullest as she carved out a 6-0, 4-0 lead, dangerously close, Azarenkas very first inflict double bagel.
At 33 and a stagnant rank of 22, Azarenka is even further from her time as a top player than Williams, her run to the 2020 US Open final is an anomaly in the six years since she was a top 10 player. Raducanu efficiently exposed these weaknesses, and Azarenka could only fight for her reputation. She held serve twice before Raducanu completed the win with no trouble.
This week marks Raducanu’s second tournament in the company of coach Dmitry Tursunov, who has started his trial period at the Citi Open, and it’s obviously going well. In her two events together she has won consecutive matches and made significant progress. More broadly, their performances are a reminder that even when players are struggling, momentum can build quickly.
Tougher challenges ahead against players competing at the highest level in their physical bests, and another barometer awaits. Next Raducanu meets American Jessica Pegula, the greatly improved seventh seed who will be only the second top 10 opponent of Raducanu’s career.
However, that was a few weeks ago. While William’s presence looms over tennis since the birth of Raducanu, she noted that she’s also been watching Azarenka since the beginning of her career. When Azarenka was playing the US Open final in 2020, Raducanu was studying for her exams and dreamed of one day being on those stages with her.
“I think after the tournament I really need to take a step back and say, ‘Look, you just beat two incredible champions.’ It’s quite a feat. You know how difficult it is to get wins,” she said.