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Raducanu breaks her duck in Romania

There is a collective sigh of relief that Britain’s fledgling star Emma Raducanu has won her first WTA Tour match since lifting the US Open trophy in September, fittingly so at the Transylvania Open in the land of her father’s birth, Romania.

I take a lot from this match today. All of the matches I am playing I am gaining experience and I definitely feel that one counts huge because when you are not playing very well you know you can do better, and just pull yourself through. Also dropping the first set hasn’t happened to me very often, so far, but I have learned about digging in and that I can turn matches around, and that is a big learning thing for me. Emma Raducanu

It was a hard-earned 4-6 7-5 6-1 victory over the wily Polona Hercog, a 30-year old tour veteran from Slovenia, who is a former Top 40 player with 3 WTA singles titles to her name, and who was not going to give the 18-year an easy passage.

It wasn’t until the third set that Raducanu’s trademark smile finally appeared to banish the tension from the teenager after she won a protracted rally with a spectacular winner and took control.

“It feels like a huge win, to be honest,” said Raducanu in her post-match press conference. “It’s actually my first WTA [event main-draw] win, which makes me very, very happy.

“I am really proud of how I fought. That is a big learning thing for me.”

It took her 2 hours and 29 minutes to figure a way past Hercog, having first raced out to a 3-0 and then 4-1 lead, but the Slovenian, now ranked 124 in the world, suddenly reeled off 5 games in a row as errors mounted from the Brit, and she snatched the first set.

Emma Raducanu admits she is on a learning curve on the WTA Tour

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Raducanu began to reveal the grit and shot selection that had taken her to an astonishing triumph in New York, staying with Hercog in the second set and fending off break points in each of her last 2 service games as they moved to 6-5.

After no breaks up until that point, Hercog stared down 3 set points but, on Raducanu’s 3rd chance, she fired a forehand long, and the match was level at a set apiece.

“Polona’s a great opponent, and she’s really experienced, so I really had to fight hard to pull that one through,” Raducanu said, in her post-match press conference. “I thought that by the end of the third set, I was playing some better tennis, and the most important thing was I earned another opportunity to go and play better in my next round.”

Raducanu took full control for good by breaking for 2-0 in the final set, and she swept to 5-0 on the back of a 7-game winning streak.

Hercog staved off 2 match points before holding for 5-1, and a double-fault by Raducanu gave the Slovenian a break point, which the No 3 seed erased with a forehand winner, before she closed out the victory 2 points later with her 4th ace.

“I think the key was to try and stay mentally composed,” Raducanu said. “I just needed to keep going one point at a time.

“And I thought that if I kept giving myself the chance by holding serve, then maybe my tennis would improve and fall into place a bit better, and it did, so I’m really proud of myself with how I fought today.”

Although no fans were allowed in Cluj-Napoca due to Covid-19 restrictions, her 88-year-old grandmother Niculina, who lives in Bucharest, was present with her father in the stands to see her breakthrough.

Raducanu smiled and laughed throughout her on court post-match interview, during which she spoke in Romanian, and was asked about her favourite local dish.

“This means a lot to play in my dad’s country,” she said. “It feels like a huge win.

“It is a shame there aren’t fans here, but I hope they were watching and I just wanted to do them proud.

“It was difficult for me, but I feel to win my first WTA match does mean a lot because I was on a losing streak, so I got my first one. I am really pleased to have come through that today.

“It definitely means a lot, it’s my first win, I knew that in my head so I was battling really hard to get on the board. To play in Romania, I had amazing support so they definitely helped me.”

In fact, it was only Raducanu’s second match since her win in New York last month, and she puts to bed the anomaly of being a Grand Slam champion without a win on the WTA Tour, having played just 4 tournaments at this level in which she suffered 3 previous first-round defeats.

“I take a lot from this match today,” she added. “All of the matches I am playing I am gaining experience and I definitely feel that one counts huge because when you are not playing very well you know you can do better, and just pull yourself through.

“Also dropping the first set hasn’t happened to me very often, so far, but I have learned about digging in and that I can turn matches around, and that is a big learning thing for me.”

Raducanu, who is managed by IMG managing, is turning into the world’s most marketable sporting superstar, and the pressure is on her to deliver on court to satisfy her elite sponsors.

The Transylvania Open may only be a WTA 250 event but the first round win is a huge stepping stone for Raducanu as she embarks on her fledgling career.

Raducanu, who made history by becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title last month, has her eyes very much set on the future but must focus on the matters on hand.

She held a staggering 17 break points in her match on Tuesday and, while she was only able to convert 4 of those chances, it still kept her in front of Hercog, who went 2-for-5 on break points.

In the second round on Thursday, Raducanu will face Romania’s Ana Bogdan, after the 28-year old ranked 106 defeated Ivana Jorovic of Serbia, 7-6(1) 6-4, to pick up her first-round win on home soil on Monday.

Irina Bara upset compatriot and No 7 seed Irina-Camelia Begu on Tuesday

© Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier in the day, 2 Romanian wild-cards also picked up victories on home soil, in lengthy 3-set thrillers, with Irina Bara first upsetting countrywoman and No 7 seed Irina-Camelia Begu, 7-6(2) 0-6 6-4.

Bara, ranked 138, regrouped after being bagelled by her higher-ranked compatriot in the second set, grabbing the only break of the decider at 2-2 before outlasting Begu, the World No 57, in nearly two-and-a-half hours.

She will next face Rebecca Peterson for a spot in the quarter-finals after the Swede defeated Croatian lucky loser Jana Fett, 6-1 6-3.

Later, Romanian hope Jaqueline Cristian earned a gritty 3-6 7-6(8) 7-6(3) win over Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan, advancing into the 2nd round after a gruelling 2 hours and 46 minutes of action.

Cristian, ranked 105, was down 3-5 in the second set and had to save 2 match points in the tiebreak before fighting back to collect the win over 98th-ranked Juvan, and she will now take on 5th seed Ajla Tomljanovic from Australia on Wednesday.

In other matches on Tuesday, Russia’s Varvara Gracheva outlasted Andrea Petkovic from Germany, 6-4 2-6 6-4, while Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck took out Danka Kovinic from Montenegro, 6-4 6-4.



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