It was not quite the fairytale return for Emma Raducanu at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San José on Monday, but a valuable experience nevertheless when veteran Zhang Shusi rolled past her 6-3 6-2.
I still think I’m at the very beginning of my journey. Every opportunity I get, I’m very grateful for because I feel like I’m constantly learning. Emma Raducanu
Playing in the night session, the British wild-card found the 32-year old from China a handful as she was broken 4 times by Zhang, who raced to leads of 3-0 and 4-0 in each set.
While she never got closer in the match despite battling throughout for 82 minutes, the 18–year-old battled hard and managed to get back on serve but was unable to convert a game point for 3-3 in the opener, and then failed on a pair of break point opportunities in the second to level at 1-1.
Raducanu was playing her first match since a breakthrough run to the fourth round of Wimbledon last month after which her ranking leapt from 338.
According to reports, she has since switched coaches, moving from the experienced Nigel Sears to the less well known Andrew Richardson, the former head coach at the Bromley Tennis Centre in south-east London.
The Brit made only 65 per cent of first serves in the opening set to Zhang’s 89.7 per cent, and faced 6 break points against her serve.
While she fought hard to save 4 of them, she was ultimately overpowered by Zhang, who saved 1 of 2 break points against her own serve.
Raducanu improved her first serve percentage slightly to 70 per cent in the second set as Zhang’s dropped to just 52 per cent, but the Chinese again set up up 6 break points and converted twice, staving off the 2 chances Raducanu had to break her serve.
In the match, Zhang fired 29 winners, nearly twice Raducanu’s 15, to snap a 6-match skid on hard courts dating back more than a year.
Crucially, Raducanu won only 5 of 22 points on her second serve for the match, while Zhang won 9 of 16.
“I still think I’m at the very beginning of my journey,” she said afterwards. “Every opportunity I get, I’m very grateful for because I feel like I’m constantly learning.”
Despite losing, the 18-year-old was praised by her opponent.
“She’s a really nice girl and plays really, really great tennis,” Zhang said on-court after her win. “I played really well tonight.
“I missed hard courts so much because in the last three-and-a-half months in Europe, we were on clay and grass. I was so excited today.”
Having lost in the first round in her three previous trips to the tournament in San José and at its previous location in Stanford, Zhang advances to a second-round meeting with No 3 seed Madison Keys, who received a bye.
The pair have played 6 times with Zhang holding a 4-2 head-to-head lead, including the last 3 wins.
There are 3 all-American matches in the singles draw and, on Monday, Olympian Alison Riske produced the first result, seeing off CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-3 6-4; while Danielle Collins meets Shelby Rogers and Catherine McNally takes on Sloane Stephens on Tuesday.
From 3-0 down in the opening set, Riske won 9 straight games en route to beating Vandeweghe for the 5th time in their 12 career meetings, and for the first time in over 4 years.
“I’m so thrilled. This year has been really challenging for me,” Riske said “Any time I start off a match [facing a deficit] like that, I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, not this again’.
“I’m really thrilled that I was able to push through.”
Vandeweghe could only convert just 3 of her 12 break point chances on Riske’s serve, which included a pair of unconverted 0-40 leads, and was unable to stretch her first-set lead to 4-1 on the first trio, while Riske sealed victory by winning 5 straight points in the 10th game of the second set.
Former World No 9 Vandeweghe, back on the WTA Tour after foot and hand injuries, also racked up 28 unforced errors to 17 winners, while Riske posted a tidy 11 winners to 12 unforced errors
Riske has also struggled with her own foot injury this season.
“Playing someone like CoCo, who can take the racket out of your hand, especially on the first couple of ball off the serve, off the return, you have to be ready to go from the get-go,” Riske said after her 88 minute win.
“It took me a second to get used to it, but mentally, I hung in there and I stuck with it, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing for me.”
For a spot in her first quarter-final since last January’s Brisbane International, Riske will face Croatian qualifier Ana Konjuh, who rallied from 5-3 down in the final set to beat Czech Marie Bouzkova, 7-5 3-6 7-5.
The match saw 15 breaks of serve in all between the two players, who combined for 30 break point opportunities in a gruelling 2 hours and 41 minutes.
“This is the first time I played her, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Konjuh said after the match. “I don’t think it was the best tennis from either one of us today, but on those days, it’s really important to pull through and find a way to win. I think I managed that today.”
Other first-round winners in Monday’s day session were No 6 seed Petra Maric and Magda Linette, each of whom advanced by 6-3 6-3 score-lines over Anastasija Sevastova and Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove, respectively and play each other next; while France’s Caroline Garcia defeated American qualifier Emina Bektas, 6-3 6-4 to set up a meeting with 4th seeded Daria Kasatkina from Russia, who received a bye.