The California sun beat Emma Raducanu in Indian Wells on Sunday, combined with a strong effort from experienced Croatian player Petra Martic.
Raducanu is still visibly far from ideal conditioning after an interrupted few months, in which he has struggled to back up his miraculous breakthrough in New York. Despite producing a magnificent tie-break in the first set, he physically vanished in the midst of this 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 loss.
Her recent tournaments have seen her suffer a blister at the Australian Open and a hip injury in Guadalajara three weeks ago, which prevented her from gaining momentum. And though he came just two points from victory against Martic, serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, this tournament will go down as another missed opportunity.
On the plus side, Raducanu has produced patches of excellent tennis in Indian Wells. Sunday’s tie-break was especially magical. A spinning backhand, played at full speed, found an angle so impossible that MC Escher could have dreamed it up.
And then there was the first set against Caroline Garcia on Friday, which came straight out of Raducanu’s US Open playbook: sharp, decisive and hard-hitting. However, in terms of preparation, the two events could hardly be more different. Where she had arrived in New York after 11 competitive matches during the American summer, she flew to California with a single professional victory to her name in 2022.
This has manifested through inconsistent levels of intensity. Against Garcia on Friday, Raducanu’s ball speed had dropped significantly in the second set. It was the same story on Sunday: That number dropped from 68 mph on both wings to 65 mph. Only a five percent differential, but with tangible consequences.
Previously, Martic had spent most of the match stuck on the baseline, where her groundstrokes are hard-hitting but a bit error-prone, lacking the simplicity and technical purity of Raducanu’s. She was now able to move further, utilizing her skills at the net that have made her a capable doubles player, as well as a former World No.14 in singles.
Another strong point of Martic’s game is that he can hit aces – eight in total. While Raducanu committed eight double faults. His serve is an area of his game that has regressed since the US Open.
Even there, the coaching team of Mark Petchey and Esteban Carril had nailed it in relatively short order. The old defect, in which the face of the racket opens up towards the sky in a position known as the “waiter’s tray”, has since returned.
Still, anyone who watched Raducanu this week would have appreciated the variety and poise in his striking game. His game is clearly good enough to keep her at the top of the ranking ladder (he’s ranked 13th this week) if he can develop his physical strength and learn to close out wins.
His mental game may be questioned, given that he has now served the match in his last two losses. (In the other case, in Guadalajara, she was 7-5, 5-3 against Aussie Daria Saville, but she couldn’t close and eventually had to retire with the aforementioned hip problem.)
But it didn’t feel like Raducanu stifled this match. Rather, he was holding on with the last of his strength. Martic found inspiration in the critical game and then broke for the second time in a row to take the victory in 2 hours and 46 minutes.
It might not have been very hot in the desert around Palm Springs on Sunday, but the temperature was still hovering around 30 degrees, and this was a physical coincidence. Despite the thin air here, the balls are slow and fluff up quickly, making it hard to kill rallies.
Raducanu will have the next week to regroup before trying again in Miami in about 10 days. While this may have been a frustrating outing, he’s beginning to rediscover his game after all that discomfort and illness. He did some recovery work on the service and he could be back in business.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray also suffered a frustrating loss. He had six break points against the eccentric Kazakh Alexander Bublik, as well as three set points in the first set tiebreak. But he couldn’t beat any of them, falling by a score of 7-6, 6-3.