Emma Raducanu came from 2-5 down to beat Czech Tereza Martincova for the second time in a fortnight in the opening round of the Mutua Madrid Open on Friday, demonstrating her self-belief after dismissing her latest coach, Torben Beltz, earlier in the week, and with Iain Bates, the LTA’s Head of Women’s Tennis, on. hand in her player box.
Whenever you play at a tournament for the first time it is different. And on a new court, I didn't practice on that one, so I was just trying to get familiar with the surroundings. And she came out swinging very well, so I was definitely feeling like I had to dig in here, because I knew I wasn't playing my best at the beginning. So I'm proud of the way I was able to make the most out of what had on the day, and then I settled down in the second set. Emma Raducanu
The British No 1 saved 2 set points as she won 11 of the last 12 games to ease into round two of the WTA 1000 event, where she will face Ukrainian wild-card Marta Kostyuk, another teenage talent, on Sunday.
Kostyuk triumphed over a 3rd 2002-born talent, Denmark’s Clara Tauson, 6-3 6-2 in 1 hour 25 minutes, while a 4th member of that generation in the top quarter of the draw, No 17 seed Leylah Fernandez from Canada, also advanced, overcoming German qualifier Andrea Petkovic, 6-1 1-6 6-4.
Swiss Jil Teichmann awaits Fernandez, having upset two-time Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova, 6-3 7-5.
Raducanu defeated Martincova in her first professional match on clay in the Billie Jean King Cup tie in Prague earlier this month, 7-5 7-5, and this time round she earned herself a bagel in victory, 7-6(3) 6-0, after her remarkable comeback.
“It was a tricky first set,” Raducanu said. “I think it’s always tough playing on a brand new court, so it took me a little bit to adjust to my surroundings.
“And, of course, if you’re low or lacking in your own game, then an opponent at this level is going to take advantage of that.
“I’m just glad that I stuck through the first set, and then definitely relaxed in the second.”
Raducanu is finding her stride on the continental clay, and adapted to being out-hit in the early stages of the match by using more spin and mixing up the pace with subtle angles to gradually draw errors from Martincova.
The Czech World No 49 never recovered from the loss of the first set, and found no answers in the second, as Raducanu put her foot on the gas, pulling off a brilliant comeback after an hour 16 minutes.
Raducanu started out somewhat flat and error-prone, while Martincova was out for revenge, eagerly taking the ball on with clean striking, and capturing the Brit’s serve for 4-2 on her 6th break point of the game.
At 5-2, 30-30, Martincova missed a chance to reach set point, letting Raducanu off the hook by sending a forehand long off a poor drop-shot, but the Czech then held 2 set points on her own delivery in the next game as errors began to creep into her game, and she squandered both by firing long.
Raducanu now was raising her game magnificently, eliminating her miscues and, with better shot selection, she ended a series of lung-busting rallies with clean winners, all of which served to take her through to the end of a superb tiebreak that she finished with an emphatic smash.
Martincova put up less resistance in the second, hitting out wildly in a bid to finish points quickly and racking up 17 unforced errors as a result, but the US Open champion held her focus and although, at 2-0 and 4-0, she was taken to deuce on her serve, she swatted away the half-chances of any Czech revival.
“Whenever you play at a tournament for the first time it is different,” she said. “And on a new court, I didn’t practice on that one, so I was just trying to get familiar with the surroundings.
“And she came out swinging very well, so I was definitely feeling like I had to dig in here, because I knew I wasn’t playing my best at the beginning.
“So I’m proud of the way I was able to make the most out of what had on the day, and then I settled down in the second set.”
On facing Kostyuk next, Raducanu said: “All throughout juniors she was always the favourite when we played.
“She was considered much better. Yeah, it’s a funny one. When we played last year she played very good, but also I wasn’t very well that day. So it’ll be an interesting match-up.”
The round of 32 matches was determined with the completion of the top half of the draw in which most of the seeded players came through unscathed, the exception being Anastasia Pavlyunchenkova, the 13th seed, who fell at the hands of local hope Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-3 2-6 6-3..
The No 4 seed Maria Sakkari from Greece won her tough opener after a comeback against Madison Keys, 6-7(8) 6-3 6-4, putting an end to her 3-match losing skid after a two-and-a-half hour battle.
The World No 5 put herself back on track despite losing her first set to the American, who gritted out the opening frame, with no service breaks by either, after a gruelling 68 minutes.
“I think the conditions suit Madison well here,” Sakkari said. “When I saw the draw, I thought that’s a tough first round. I just trusted my game.
“Overall, it was a very positive match to get myself back in the winning feeling.”
Sakkari used a deft lob to earn the first break of the day and lead 4-2 in the second set, and the Greek held on from there.
There were 5 service breaks in the decider, and Sakkari grabbed the decisive one to lead 5-4, closing out the victory in the next game with a forehand winner.
Sakkari will next face Daria Kasatkina, who overcame Hungarian qualifier Anna Bondar from a set down, 4-6 6-4 6-3.
7th-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza, one of the home-crowd favourites in the Spanish capital, defeated Australian No 1 Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5 6-2.
The Spanish World No 9 was playing her first match since an opening-round defeat at Indian Wells in early March, and looked to be a vulnerable target after taking time off to treat a shoulder problem.
Tomljanovic pushed Muguruza in the opening set, but once the Spaniard had brushed away the rust and started to unfurl the power, she proved a convincing winner.
The former French Open and Wimbledon champion looked refreshed after her break and, following an edgy start, broke Tomljanovic’s serve 5 times in the 1 hour 39 minute encounter.
“I went out without a lot of expectation, not knowing with lack of matches how it was gonna feel out there, but that’s it,” Muguruza said afterwards. “I took the energy from the crowd more this time than other years. In other years, I can’t get over, sometimes, the nerves.
“I think that I all the time thought that being the only tournament in Spain, it’s a lot of pressure because you only have one opportunity to really shine.
“But this year I was, like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna use the crowd.’ If they cheer up for me, if I put the ball in the locker room, then who cares, right? So yeah, happy with that.”
In addition to a fresher mind, Muguruza says her mini-break helped her heal up the niggles that had hampered the start of her season.
“I felt like I needed it because I was training a lot, and my body was not really taking on the training,” she said. “It was one pain here, one pain there. It was an accumulation of pain.
“I told my team, I think we should take 10 days at least off so I get to recover, naturally, my body.
“As soon as I stopped playing, my shoulder started healing, my leg, my back, everything started to be where it should. I said, ‘I think we should focus more this year on clay court’.
“It was a natural feeling. The schedule, it’s pretty intense. So I felt nothing’s going to happen if I skip one or two tournaments if after I’m gonna come back and feel better.”
Muguruza will face Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina next, a 7-5 6-4 winner over American Sloane Stephens.
Naomi Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion and former World No 1 but now down at 36 on the WTA Ranking, is unseeded here but breezed past qualifier Anastasia Potapova, 6-3 6-1.
“I’m honestly trying to be more positive with myself,” Osaka said. “This year, I came a week early to train on red clay, so just trying to give myself more chances to do better. … To be able to do it in two sets, for me, it’s a really good starting block.”
Osaka withdrew from the French Open last year and took a break from competition after saying she ‘suffered long bouts of depression’ and experienced ‘huge waves of anxiety’ before speaking to the media.
“Today, for me, it was really fun, just being able to be back on the clay and, kind of, not taking those moments for granted,” she added.
Osaka’s next challenge is Sorribes Tormo, the Spanish clay court specialist.
Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins won the last 8 games to advance 7-5 6-0 over Monica Puig, the Olympic gold medalist in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 from Puerto Rio.
Puig is returning to action following shoulder and bicep surgeries, having appeared in only 4 matches since her first major procedure in 2019.
Collins, who also missed matches this season because of injury, including a neck ailment she picked up during her quarter-final run in Miami will take on Canadian Bianca Andreescu, a 6-4 3-6 6-0 winner over another American, Alison Riske.
“I have watched many of her matches, actually enjoy watching her play,” Andreescu said of Collins. “I know it’s going to be a tough match. She’s a very strong competitor, but hopefully I can pull it off.”
Andreescu also has been plagued by injuries since becoming the first player born in the 2000s to win a Grand Slam back in 2019, when she hoisted the US Open trophy.
Another American to advance was 12th-seeded Jessica Pegula against Italy’s Camila Giorgi, 7-5 2-6 7-5, and she will now face Kaia Kanepi after the Estonian took out 16-year old Czech wild-card Linda Fruhvirtova, 6-3 6-4.