U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu found out the hard way Friday night in Indian Wells the difference between being the hunted and being the hunter.
The 18-year-old Brit, who took the world by storm with her historic march to the title in New York, was defeated in her first match since then, a stunning 6-2, 6-4 loss to Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in the opening round of the BNP Paribas Open.
Raducanu, now the No. 22-ranked player in the world and seeded No. 17 at this tournament, did not play perfect tennis, but this was a case of an opponent upping their game when facing a Grand Slam champion. It’s something Raducanu will no doubt have to get used to.
Sasnovich, ranked No. 100 in the world rankings, frustrated tennis’ 18-year-old It Girl with excellent defensive tennis followed by aggressive play when given the opportunity for winners.
“I understand that I needed to go for it, to play 100 percent,” Sasnovich told the crowd after the match. “I know that Emma just won the U.S. Open and I lost there in the first round. So a little different. I love tennis. I love to be here. That’s my life.”
Raducanu was understandably rattled after dropping the first set Friday night to Sasnovich. Remember, in her remarkable 10-match win streak in New York, she never lost a set. Twenty sets played, 20 sets won.
Raducanu was broken to start the second set, but that’s when she appeared to regain her form. Ripping forehands and jumping on second serves, Raducanu rattled off four of the next five games to take a 4-2 lead.
The crowd was roaring. There was finally a skip in Raducanu’s step. It didn’t last long.
Sasnovich didn’t back down. She broke right back to get back on serve and then held to make it 4-4.
The wind was officially out of Raducanu’s sails and she played like it.
She played a wonky game at 4-4, missing easy winners followed each time by a disgusted exhale. She was broken in that game and then lost the final game at love.
All of a sudden it was over. After winning 20 straight sets at the U.S. Open, she lost two straight at the BNP Paribas Open. With her head down as she walked off Stadium Court, she gave a dejected wave to the crowd who roared for her.
It was a night that started out according to script. Raducanu stepped out on the court and looked dominating in the first game, winning it at love as the crowd gleefully watched a small taste of what they saw in New York.
But Sasnovich shook off the big-stadium jitters and found her game, hitting the lines and crossing Raducanu up with some beautiful lobs. The 27-year-old, which counts as old in today’s tennis, showed she had a few veteran tricks up her sleeve.
She won the next three games to go up 3-1 and give Raducanu a first taste of adversity. That was a hot talking point heading into this event. How would Raducanu handle a moment when things were going south. On this night, she couldn’t come up with the answers. Sasnovich quieted the crowd and dinged the spirit of Raducanu by winning six of seven games to take the first set 6-2.
Sasnovich advances to play 2015 BNP Paribas Open champion 11th-seeded Simona Halep on Sunday.