Emma Raducanu heads to Madrid in a good state as she finds her feet on clay (2024)

Towards the end of another fruitful, promising foray on the WTA tour last week, Emma Raducanu found herself staring down what is fast becoming the ultimate challenge in her sport. Across the net in the quarter-finals of the Stuttgart Open stood Iga Swiatek, the world No 1, on the surface that has most defined her career to date.

For more than two hours, Raducanu went toe-to-toe with the best player of her generation on clay, her level in turn provoking the best out of Swiatek, who played a sublime tie-break to narrowly edge out the first set before closing it out in two. After her great performances in Le Portel, where she led Great Britain to an unlikely upset over France on clay a week earlier, Raducanu left Stuttgart with further suggestions that she may well be finding her feet.

The great challenge of professional tennis at the highest level, though, is that it never stops. Two strong weeks are encouraging but this is a sport that values sustained excellence. This week, Raducanu heads to the Madrid Open hoping that she can continue the momentum she has started to build at one of the biggest non-slam tournaments in the world.

During Sunday’s draw ceremony, Raducanu was officially announced as a wildcard for the Madrid Open. She had initially been handed an extremely difficult first-round draw against the former No 1 Karolina Pliskova, but on Monday afternoon Pliskova withdrew from the event. Raducanu will instead open her tournament against a qualifier/lucky loser in the opening round on Tuesday and the winner will face Veronika Kudermetova, the 17thseed.

Both of Raducanu’s excellent weeks on clay have come in faster indoor clay courts and the conditions at the Madrid Open are also far from traditional slow, heavy clay conditions. In Madrid’s high altitude, balls fly through the air and the quicker conditions, even on clay, often favour players such as Raducanu who prefer faster courts. Petra Kvitova, after all, is the most successful female player in Madrid with three titles.

In recent weeks, Raducanu has played with a level of freedom and conviction that she has not enjoyed since she won the USOpen in 2021. She has committed to playing attacking tennis, taking the ball early and dictating against her opponents. Raducanu’s forehand can sometimes look underpowered but she is currently striking it brilliantly. Likewise, although her serve has caused her problems in the time since her triumph at Flushing Meadows, she has found greater precision behind her delivery, which has offered her more opportunities to attack from insidethe baseline.

Since returning from injury at the beginning of the season, Raducanu has also been much more physically resilient and has generally been able to remain fit. Unlike over the last two years, she is not coming to tournaments nursing injuries, cutting practices short and having to work with what she has. On Monday in Madrid, for example, the 21-year-old was put through her paces in two practice sessions. After training with Ons Jabeur at 10am, Raducanu returned at 5pm for further court time.

Still, she continues to move to the beat of her own drum. In France, it was interesting to hear Raducanu reject the notion that her wins would bring her additional confidence; she asserted that she was already confident from the work she has done in practice.

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“I’ve been doing such good practice in the last few weeks, fewmonths, that it’s nice to see the reward,” she said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I wouldn’t say that it’s confidence building or make or break in terms of results because I’ve been taking so much confidence just from thepracticeI’ve been doing. I thinkyou can build confidence two ways: by winning matches or by practising really well. I’ve been practising really welleventhough I’m technically light on matches. That’s the way Ilikedoing things now and probably more going forward.”

Having risen 82 ranking spots to her current position of 221, Raducanu will continue to look to build her form in a week that is noteworthy for numerous reasons. Behind the scenes, representatives from all grand slam tournaments are expected in Madrid, which will be the latest site of numerous meetings between the governing bodies of professional tennis regarding the future of the sport. Topics on the agenda will include the proposed Premier Tour and questions of an expanded Saudi presence on the tour.

On the court, the Olympic entry list cut-off, which closes at the end of the French Open, grows ever closer. Many players will look to make a move, including other grand slam champions such as Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, who will take their spots in the draw and continue their attempts to rise up the rankings.

Emma Raducanu heads to Madrid in a good state as she finds her feet on clay (2024)


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