Success on clay is all about grit, in every sense, and that’s what Emma Raducanu demonstrated as she surged into the second round of the Madrid Masters with one of her finest performances since the US Open.
The narrative around Raducanu in recent days has focused on her latest coach-sacking. The departure of Germany’s Torben Beltz was announced on Tuesday morning, in a statement that found her speaking of a new and possibly decentralised model involving no direct replacement for the moment.
But it was a case of “no coach, no problem”, as Raducanu eased past Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic by a 7-6, 6-0 scoreline. She thus earns a meeting with the Ukraine’s Martya Kostyuk on Sunday – the same near-exact contemporary whom she lost to in Romania in October. (That was something of a hammering, although Raducanu was suffering with from a virus at the time, and played well below her best.)
Friday’s match could so easily have gone wrong, notably when Martincova held three set points in the opening set. At this stage, Raducanu was underpowered and unconvincing, with her normally gilt-edged backhand spraying errors in all directions.
But then, at the moment of crisis, Raducanu tapped into her inner mongrel. She saved the first set point with a devastating inside-out forehand – surely the most important shot of the match, when you consider what was to come – and then kept the ball in play for long enough for a nervy Martincova to fire her own groundstrokes over the baseline.
The whole contest now swung like a pendulum, with Martincova – who had led 5-3 – suddenly finding herself completely outclassed. Raducanu stole the first set on a tie-break and then whistled through the next set in just 25 minutes. Her whole game was now purring like a classic car; the heavy, whipped topspin forehands nicely complemented by a deft drop-shot.
“It was a tricky first set,” said Raducanu in the on-court interview after her 7-6, 6-0 victory. “It’s always tough playing on a brand-new court and it took me a little bit of time to adjust to my surroundings. If you’re low or lacking in your own game, an opponent at this level is going to take advantage of that. I’m just glad that I stuck through the first set and definitely relaxed in the second set.”
This was the second time in a fortnight that these two women had faced off on a clay court, after Great Britain’s meeting with the Czech Republic in Prague on Easter weekend. Raducanu won both matches in straight sets, but this was by far the more convincing victory, and demonstrated how quickly she is finding her feet on this tricky surface.
In both matches, Martincova served for the first set and couldn’t close it out. She is athletic and technically sound – like so many of the women who come off the miraculous Czech conveyor belt – and looks easily good enough to improve her world ranking of No.50.
But Martincova’s weakness is clearly her temperament. Serving at 5-4 in that first set, she became visibly stressed, having to retake her ball toss repeatedly, and making violent shadow swings between points in an attempt to loosen her rigid muscles. It almost looked as if the giant sleeve tattoo that she wears on her right arm was tightening around her flesh.
Raducanu, by contrast, stayed composed throughout the match. Yes, there were occasional gesticulations when she encountered one of the bad bounces that clay is so notorious for. But there was never any sense of panic, even when her game was slow to arrive. That can happen in Madrid, where the altitude of 700 metres thins the air and makes it difficult to bring the ball down, especially on return of serve.
All these details are new to Raducanu. She is still making her first circuit of the international tour, and it is easy to underestimate how much local conditions affect the apparently straightforward physics of ball on strings.
This is where the lack of a coach might seem to be a weakness. But Raducanu takes great pride in her own intelligence and resourcefulness. As she said on Wednesday, “A lot of the time, I feel that I know all the answers that I am coming to myself.”
Here in Madrid, she has been accompanied only by her agent Chris Helliar and Ian Bates, head of women’s tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association. “He’s been great to have this week with me,” said Raducanu of Bates. “I felt pretty good. I’m always confident when I go on. I feel like ‘Hey, I know the gameplan, I know what I’m gonna try and execute.’ But of course he’s great, he brings a lot of experience, and yeah to have that addition is really nice.
“In the first set, I wasn’t playing my best and you kind of work things out and use what you have on the day. I think it’s always quite rewarding, just to know that you have that backup option.”
As for the prospect of Kostyuk, Raducanu added “She’s a tough opponent. She’s the same age as me. So I remember playing juniors with her and stuff. Last year I wasn’t very well but yeah, it’s gonna be an interesting match-up.”
Emma Raducanu beats Tereza Martincova – as it happened
Emma Raducanu speaks…
On coming through the tough first set before dominating…
“It was a tricky first set, it’s tough playing on a brand new court…I am just glad I stuck through the first set and definitely got better in the second.”
“It’s such a cool vibe…the people are friendly and hopefully I get to spend more days here.”
EMMA RADUCANU WINS 7-6, 6-0
A brilliant forehand winner is followed up by a fine backhand crosscourt winner and then next point Martincova hits into the net to give Raducanu three match points.
She only needs one and is through to next round in Madrid. That was hugely impressive stuff from the Briton.
Raducanu 7-6, 5-0 Martincova* (*denotes next server)
Raducanu is well on top now – from 5-2 down in the first set she’s now 5-0 up in the second, she hasn’t allowed Martincova any breathing space at all and is in complete control.
There was a a bit of a blip in this game – having been 40-15 up she was pegged back to deuce, then a brilliant forehand winner down the line gives Martincova a break point. But a a great first serve and delicate drop shot earns Raducanu the game.
Martincova is now serving to stay in the match.
Raducanu* 7-6, 4-0 Martincova (*denotes next server)
Raducanu is playing some good stuff now and a fine backhand winner gets her to 15-30, another chance of a break. Martincova then double faults and the Briton has two break points. She only needs one of them and she now has won nine of the past 10 games and is two breaks up.
Raducanu 7-6, 3-0 Martincova* (*denotes next server)
There’s a long baseline rally that Raducanu comes second best in at the start of the game. But that doesn’t unnerve the Briton as she gets to 40-15 – one point saw her come into the net and take the ball on the run in the air, a good sign. But that soon becomes deuce – from there Raducanu holds both her nerve and serve.
That’s eight from nine games for the Briton as she goes from strength to strength, impressive stuff from the US Open champion.
Raducanu* 7-6, 2-0 Martincova (*denotes next server)
Raducanu has a small window of opportunity at 15-30, she then makes it 15-40 and has two break points. A long, wild forehand from Martincova gives the Briton an early break. Raducanu has now won seven of the past eight games.
Raducanu 7-6, 1-0 Martincova* (*denotes next server)
Raducanu begins the second set well, taking the momentum from the hard-fought first set into the second – she holds to 15, a blistering forehand winner down the line the highlight of a measured game.
Raducanu 7-6 Martincova
Martincova forehand flies wide, 1-0. Nervy double fault by Raducanu, 1-1. Raducanu backhand wide, 1-2. Martincova with another wide backhand, 2-2. Martincova backhand into the net, 3-2. Brave second serve down the T and forehand winner, 4-2.
Raducadu drills a backhand winner down the line, 5-2. Raducanu nets an attempted forehand drop shot, 5-3. World class clay court tennis by Raducanu as she ends a gruelling rally with a forehand winner, 6-3. Martincova forehand long, 7-3.
Raducanu* 6-6 Martincova (*denotes server)
Good defense by Raducanu and Martincova puts a backhand into the tramlines, 15-0. A wild forehand draws an angry reaction from Martincova, 40-0.
Fist pump by Raducanu as she forces a tiebreak with a forehand winner.
Raducanu 5-6 Martincova* (*denotes server)
We’ve got a real match on our hands now. A ninth winner for Raducanu as she drills a forehand winner down the line.
She gets a 10th winner with a wrong-footing forehand, 15-30. Couple of errors by Raducanu, just pushing too hard.
Raducanu slides into her backhand side and flicks a shot into the open court, deuce. Raducanu looking like a clay court veteran as she hits a lovely backhand drop shot. But Martincova responds well to force two errors from Raducanu.
Raducanu will have to serve to stay in the set again.
Raducanu* 5-5 Martincova (*denotes server)
Raducanu is playing some of her best stuff now and it is Martincova making all the errors now.
The wide serve + forehand combo works again to move Raducanu to 40-15. And a stunning cross court backhand winner draws a huge roar from Raducanu.
Raducanu 4-5 Martincova* (*denotes server)
Brilliant forehand winner down the line by Raducanu, an early warning shot. She goes for it again but this time misjudges it, 15-15.
Wild Raducanu backhand long, 30-15. A tight forehand by Martincova goes long, 30-30. Big point coming up.
Raducanu blinks first with the forehand and Martincova has a set point. But the Czech goes long again. Deuce.
Raducanu goes for it up the line and just misses, set point No 2. Patient play by Raducanu and Martincova makes the error again. Deuce.
Break point Raducanu as Martincova puts a backhand wide. She has to get the ball in play!
Raducanu gets into the rally, shows good defense and rifles a backhand winner into the open court. Superb court craft.
Raducanu* 3-5 Martincova (*denotes server)
A fine forehand down the line by Raducanu, 30-15. That’s more like it from the US Open champ.
Impressive clay court craft by Martincova and she finishes the point with a lovely drop shot, 30-30.
Poor drop shot by Raducanu but Martincova puts her approach long, bad error. 40-30.
Raducanu forehand is just out, deuce. No easy points at the moment.
But Martincova does put a forehand long after a tense rally. Important hold for Raducanu as Martincova puts a backhand return long.
Raducanu 2-5 Martincova* (*denotes server)
Too many errors coming from the backhand side of Raducanu. Nice volley winner by Martincova, 30-0.
Martincova backhand winner, 40-0. A wild forehand by Raducanu and it’s a third love hold in four games for the Czech.
An excellent service hold to consolidate by Martincova.
Raducanu* 2-4 Martincova (*denotes server)
First opening for Martincova as Raducanu’s forehand flies long, 15-30. Another forehand error by Raducanu gives Martincova two break points.
Raducanu saves the first with a forehand winner. And the second with her first ace of the match. Deuce.
Another break point for Martincova after Raducanu’s backhand flies long. Another excellent wide serve from Raducanu to save break point. Deuce.
Raducanu backhand into the net, fourth break point. A third wide serve by Raducanu on break point and she saves break point again.
Raducanu double fault, fifth break point. Half a chance for Martincova to finally get the break but she puts a forehand long.
Another Raducanu backhand error, sixth break point. And Martincova finally breaks through when Raducanu nets a backhand.
Raducanu 2-3 Martincova* (*denotes server)
Two big time forehands by Raducanu, showing the effortless power she has, 30-15. Good tennis by both players but Martincova forces the error from Raducanu, 40-15.
First double fault of the match by Martincova, 40-30. More aggressive play by Martincova with the first strike allows her to hold.
Raducanu* 2-2 Martincova (*denotes server)
Excellent return by Martincova forces a defensive lob by Raducanu and the Czech steps in to put away the mid court ball, 0-15.
Good use of the serve by Raducanu gives her two cheap points, 30-15. And Raducanu completes another service hold when Martincova puts a return long.
Raducanu 1-2 Martincova* (*denotes server)
Great footwork and an excellent forehand winner down the line by Martincova, 30-0.
And the Czech holds with her first ace of the match.
Raducanu* 1-1 Martincova (*denotes server)
Raducanu begins her opening service game with a tame forehand into the net. Good intelligent play by Raducanu to take the pace off her serve and draw the error from Martincova, 30-15.
And she claims the opening game when Martincova nets a backhand.
First set: Emma Raducanu 0-1 Tereza Martincova* (*denotes server)
Three unforced errors by Raducanu gift Martincova an ideal start, 40-0.
First long rally of the match goes the way of Martincova after Raducanu puts a backhand into the tramlines.
Into the warm ups
The players are on court and Martincova gets an early win by winning the toss.
She opts to serve first.
Players due on court shortly
It is a big game for Raducanu, who seems to be adjusting to clay courts quite well.
She reached the third round of the Porsche Open last week before being beaten by eventual winner and world No 1 Iga Swiatek.
Hello and welcome to coverage of Emma Raducanu’s opening match at the Madrid Open against Czech player Tereza Martincova.
Raducanu admitted it was a tough decision to split from coach Torben Beltz after less than six months working together, but intends to focus on using “sparring partners” to continue her development.
The US Open champion hired the German, best known for guiding Angelique Kerber through her professional career, at the end of last season, but it has proved another short-lived relationship.
The news followed Raducanu’s best week since hiring Beltz, with back-to-back wins on clay at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart and an encouraging performance in defeat to world number one Iga Swiatek.
Raducanu, who is up to 11 in the world rankings, has switched coaches frequently during her junior days and worked with Nigel Sears over her run to the fourth round at Wimbledon last summer, before turning to Andrew Richardson for the US Open.
The 19-year-old continues her clay-court baptism in Madrid this week, where she will face a first-round match against Martincova, whom she beat in the recent Billie Jean King Cup qualifier in Prague.
In the short-term, Raducanu will be supported by the Lawn Tennis Association and head of women’s tennis Iain Bates until she looks to formulate a way forward.
The British number one has been linked to a potential partnership with Riccardo Piatti having recently trained at the Italian’s academy, but for now remains comfortable in her own regime.
“Torben is a great guy. I really enjoyed my time with him on and off the court. He is one of the nicest people I’ve met so obviously it was a tough one to split with someone like that,” Raducanu said in Madrid on Wednesday.
“But I feel like right now I’m very comfortable with my current training. I’m feeling very confident in what I’m doing and how I’m working.
“I feel like over the last few weeks it’s definitely become more apparent and especially as I’ve spent more time on the tour playing more matches against these top opponents, that I kind of understand what I feel like I need more of.
“I think Torben has been great for me because when I wanted someone with tour experience, I think for my first six months on the tour, it was very valuable.”