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Emma Raducanu remains set-less against top-10 opponents after crushing defeat by Aryna Sabalenka

March 12th, 2024

Emma Raducanu fought hard in the second set – Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Emma Raducanu’s search for a set against a top-ten opponent goes on after she was squashed by Aryna Sabalenka, the recent Australian Open champion, in 95 minutes.

This was a brutal demonstration of shock and awe from Sabalenka, who swings more wholeheartedly than anyone on either tour. Her speed of shot would put her above average among the men.

The outcome will be frustrating for Raducanu, but she didn’t play badly. Given a free swing at an opponent nobody expected her to beat, she put up solid enough resistance to get Sabalenka chuntering away – and even receiving a code violation at one stage for an audible obscenity.

There was also a Sabalenka double-fault on match point – a throwback to the days when she would lose her cool at the most important moments. She needed four goes to close out her 6-3, 7-5 victory, eventually sealing the deal with a majestic inside-out forehand winner.

That was one of 33 clean winners that Sabalenka struck, which works out at one-and-a-half per game. There were misses in the mixture too, as there always will be when you play with this level of aggression. Sabalenka also hit 29 unforced errors, including a high proportion on the third shot of the rally as Raducanu’s stinging returns caught her off balance.

Perhaps the key statistic was Raducanu’s low break-point conversion: just one success from ten opportunities. You could look at this in two ways: either she was wasteful, or she was unexpectedly successful at getting into her return games against an opponent who stands second on the list of the fastest-ever female servers.

In fact, both these statements were true – but we should also factor in the way that Sabalenka defended the break points, often finding an ace or a particularly scorching forehand winner. That is the big transformation that she has made over the last couple of seasons: the ability to lift her game when the stakes are at their highest.

Emma Raducanu remains set-less against top-10 opponents after crushing defeat by Aryna SabalenkaEmma Raducanu remains set-less against top-10 opponents after crushing defeat by Aryna Sabalenka

Emma Raducanu walks off court after her straight sets defeat against Aryna Sabalenka – Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

It would have been easy for Sabalenka to lose her rag at the very end, when a Raducanu mishit dropped on the sideline to save the third match point, but she never lost her focus. At the end of the match, she could be seen telling the umpire why her code violation – which suggested an impressive level of Russian from the official – had been horribly unfair.

Raducanu has now failed to win a set in her six meetings with top-ten players, but this was certainly a better showing than the one she put up against Ons Jabeur in Abu Dhabi just under five weeks ago. She can go on to Miami, the second of the big American events known as the “Sunshine Double”, in reasonable spirits.

The result means that there are no British players left in Indian Wells as we move onto the last 16s. Earlier, Cameron Norrie had gone out in agonising style after winning the first set against French veteran Gael Monfils.

This match was a real barn-burner, featuring one point that Sky Sports commentator Jonathan Overend instantly dubbed “one of the rallies of the year”. Both men are extremely athletic and here they covered vast amounts of territory, using all manner of variations in their play.

In the end, though, it was Monfils who finished the stronger to claim a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 comeback win and knock Norrie out of the world’s top 30 for the first time in almost three years. Lasting three hours and 12 minutes, the match underscored what a phenomenal physical specimen Monfils is, even at the age of 37 and a half.

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