Jelena Ostapenko delivered some home truths to Emma Raducanu when she emphatically beat her at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart on Tuesday, taking just 59 minutes to dispatch the British No 1, 6-2 6-1.
That's what I'm working on every day [returning to the Top 3]. That's one of my goals -- I want to be back on the top. I like to play big matches, I like to be in the last rounds of the tournaments. I still know I have that level. I still know I was that player. I still believe in myself, and I hope I'm back there very soon. Paula Badosa
The lack of match play was evident in Raducanu on the fast indoor clay court, as she lost for the second consecutive time in the 1st-round after. last playing the Miami Open where she lost to Bianca Andreescu.
Raducanu, who has been battling a wrist injury, skipped Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup defeat to France last week to prepare for the clay-court swing, was completely outplayed after being given a tough opening draw.
She struggled to deal with the Latvian’s ferocious hitting, and was comprehensively outplayed by the 2017 French Open champion, who set up a 2nd-round meeting with 3rd-seeded Ons Jabeur from Tunisia as a result.
Raducanu, who is currently ranked 68, made the quarter-finals here in Stuttgart last year, and she will therefore slump to around 83 because of this latest loss.
If she falls outside the Top 100, the lucrative sponsorship deals that she signed after her magnificent US Open win in 2021 could well be under threat.
The 20-year old is currently starring in a new promotion for British Airways, and she played in Stuttgart as a wild-card, invited by Porsche, one of Raducanu’s luxury brand sponsors.
While Raducanu could continue to rely on wild-cards to get into major tournaments as a Grand Slam champion, she might have to drop down to the ITF World Tennis Tour to help find her feet in the professional ranks.
In the meeting of the two former Grand Slam champions, Ostapenko broke Raducanu twice in the first set, and ran away with the match in the second, after she broke the Brit to love in consecutive service games.
It was Raducanu’s first clay-court outing of the season, and it ended in a one-sided defeat, despite winning the first game before being overpowered by Ostapenko’s heavy hitting as she lost the next 5 on the way to giving up the opening set.
Having held serve at the start of the second, Raducanu moved to 0-30 on the 2017 French Open winner’s serve, but from there Ostapenko eased herself into the lead.
Ostapenko struck 26 winners to Raducanu’s 6, and was the quicker in finding her rhythm, while her power and depth off the forehand set up a break point in the 3rd game, which she converted with a fine backhand return.
The Latvian established a 4-1 lead with a second successive break, courtesy of another forehand winner as Raducanu struggled to deal with the weight of her opponent’s ball-striking, and she was caught out by her touch too, as a deft drop-shot helped to secure the next game.
Having stopped the rot to make it 5-2, Raducanu was swatted aside as Ostapenko served out for the set, winning it 6-2 in just 29 minutes.
Raducanu’s response was to win the first 6 points of the second, holding serve impressively to love before establishing a 30-0 lead in the 2nd game, but the door was slammed firmly shut as the World No 22 rattled off 16 successive points to go 4-1 up.
The Brit fashioned her first break point of the match in the next game, but she was unable to convert it and found herself serving to stay in it, ultimately in vain, as Ostapenko crashed a forehand service return past her to set up a match point, which she took with ease.
In 2017, Ostapenko was the youngest French Open champion in 20 years, and the lowest-ranked major champion since the introduction of computer rankings.
On Tuesday she summoned up the same baseline power that won her a legion of fans in Paris, simply overpowering Raducanu.
“I knew, against her, the main thing was to step in the court,” Ostapenko said. “Of course, I missed some balls, but I tried to be aggressive all the time when it was possible. Just try to take the ball early, don’t give her many chances. And finally, I’m back on clay, my favourite surface.”
Now 25 years old, the Latvian was asked about that run at Roland Garros, when she was just 19.
“I was kind of fearless. I was not thinking too much,” Ostapenko said. “I felt today a little bit that way. I was just going for the shots. Even if I was missing, I was, like, It’s fine, I will still go for the shots.
“Probably [need] to bring back this fearlessness, but of course it’s tougher when you get older. You start to think more and, of course, you want to play better, and more consistently.”
“When you have more thoughts, it sometimes doesn’t end up better for you.”
Since her break-out season, consistency has been an issue for Ostapenko, who fell out of the Top 10 in 2018 and has yet to rise back to that level, while she has reached only two major quarter-finals since 2017.
A run to the Last 8 at the Australian Open in January, though, seems to have summoned a welcome revival of form.
“It can sound a bit strange but I felt, like, I was stepping back a little bit too much in the years when I wasn’t playing well,” Ostapenko said. “When I’m stepping into the court and I play fearless like at the French Open and try to hit winners, of course, not crazy, but play a bit smarter, that’s what’s working well.”
As she eyes her first tour-level match on clay against Jabeur, Ostapenko fancies her chances, the two having split their two recent meetings, with the Tunisian winning on the indoor hard courts of Ostrava, while the Latvian won their last match on grass at Eastbourne.
On Tuesday, 7th-seeded Daria Kasatkina from Russia, also was resoundingly beaten, 6-1 6-1, in 70 minutes, by Spain’s Paula Badosa to become the first seeded player to be eliminated from the WTA 500 draw.
Badosa found the perfect balance of staying aggressive without giving too much away, particularly in a first set that saw her tally 9 winners to 7 unforced errors.
Although miscues crept in at the start of the second, Badosa was swift to reel herself in again, and she finished with 19 winners to 22 unforced errors, with her backhand down the line proving her stand-out shot.
She faced just one break point, in the first game of the second set, and saved it with a pinpoint forehand winner into the corner, while Kasatkina’s normal trademark consistency was missing on this day as she committed 28 unforced errors to only 8 winners.
“That’s what I’m working on every day [returning to the Top 3],” she said. “That’s one of my goals — I want to be back on the top. I like to play big matches, I like to be in the last rounds of the tournaments.
“I still know I have that level. I still know I was that player. I still believe in myself, and I hope I’m back there very soon.”
This was Badosa’s first Top 10 win in 12 months, and a statement upset it was, having lost her last two encounters with Kasatkina in straight sets, and now levelling their head-to-head record at 2-2.
Since hitting a career-high of No 2 this time last year, Badosa has fallen to No 31 in the rankings, and needed a wild-card to enter Stuttgart, but the 25-year old Spaniard is a clay court specialist and reached the quarter-finals in Charleston.
Badosa will next face qualifier Cristina Bucsa in an all-Spanish encounter as she bids to return to the quarter-finals here in Stuttgart for a second straight year.
Meanwhile, Czech Barbora Krejcikova defeated Liudmila Samsonova from Russia, 6-2 6-0, and the 2021 French Open champion will next face Aryna Sabalenka, the No 2 seed from Belarus, who is this year’s Australian Open champion.
Beatriz Haddad Maia progressed after Martina Trevisan from Italy retired, with the Brazilian leading 7-5, 1-1 in their 1st-round match, setting up a potential meeting with Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan in the next round.
Another Russian, Anastasia Potapova, was a 6-3 3-6 7-6(4) winner over Croatia’s Petra Martic, a qualifier, and could play Coco Gauff next, while Germany’s Tatjana Maria beat Swiss qualifier Ylena In-Albon, 6-2 4-6 7-6(4).