NEW YORK – Maybe Emma Raducanu was simply trying to lower others’ expectations or make things easier on herself when she scoffed at the idea that there might by any pressure on her as she returned to the site of her remarkable out-of-nowhere run to the 2021 U.S. Open championship.
Sure sounded so when she declared, shortly before the start of play at Flushing Meadows: “I think defending a title is just something that the press makes up.”
Either way, her follow-up trip to New York did not last long. Raducanu became just the third woman in the professional era to lose in the first round one year after winning the U.S. Open title, bowing out 6-3, 6-3 against Alize Cornet on Tuesday night.
“I’m sorry, guys. I know you really like Emma,” Cornet told the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium. “She’s a great player and a great person.”
The other defending champions – if you believe in such constructs – who went home this quickly at the American Grand Slam tournament were Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won it in 2004, and Angelique Kerber, who won it in 2016 (and lost in the first round in 2017 to Naomi Osaka, who had yet to win any of her four major trophies).
Raducanu dealt with blisters on her racket-holding right hand and took a medical timeout after the first set for treatment from a trainer.
She also was simply outplayed by Cornet, a 32-year-old from France who ended No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon.
A year ago, at age 18, Raducanu arrived at Flushing Meadows ranked 150th to participate in only the second major tournament of her nascent career. She wound up making it through qualifying and winning 10 matches in a row en route to becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title, defeating another unseeded teen, Leylah Fernandez, in the final.
Since then, Raducanu has gone 15-19, including second-round losses at each of the first three majors of 2022.
She was seeded 11th at the U.S. Open.
Cornet is ranked 40th and playing in her record-setting 63rd consecutive Grand Slam event. She’s only reached the quarterfinals at one of them – this year’s Australian Open.
But she also owns six victories over opponents ranked in the top 20 this season.
“I’m handling my emotions better,” said Cornet, who actually was angered when the Armstrong roof was closed during the course of play early in the second set. “I guess I’m getting old. I’m getting mature. … It’s good because I’m 32. I guess it’s better late than never.”