After both had their Miami tournaments end prematurely last month, they returned to clay this week. It was the 2017 French Open champion who wasted no time and produced 26 winners as her aggressive style of tennis proved too hot for the 20-year-old Brit to handle during a one-sided battle of Major titlists.
Ostapenko oozes class with decisive display
Ostapenko bt. Raducanu 6-2, 6-1
- “I didn’t give her many chances – I know how good she is – main thing is to step in the court and be aggressive when I can, try to take balls early… back on my favourite surface,” Ostapenko in her on-court interview
- 25-year-old won almost double total points (52-27) against Raducanu, who falls to 5-5 on the season and faces world no. 4 Ons Jabeur in R2
- World no. 1 Iga Swiatek and Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka  face tricky opening tests as top four seeds got first-round byes
Jelena Ostapenko sat down at the changeover, and couldn’t help but smile. 29 minutes played, a set already banked and it was looking like a straightforward evening’s work against Emma Raducanu on the Stuttgart clay.
Raducanu, for all the criticism levelled at her in recent months, tends to give opponents problems and a potential scare even if she loses in straight-sets.
If there was one, it lasted two points on the Latvian’s serve early in the second set.
She overcooked a pair of forehands and had a second-serve to fire, down 0-30, but any scoreboard pressure quickly disappeared – Raducanu forced into two errors, Ostapenko constructing rallies well and executing expertly, the smile was soon back.
A graphic flashed across the screen in the final stages: Ostapenko had won 17 of the match’s last 20 points, and it said everything you needed to know.
Raducanu defended well in stages but lacked consistent depth on her groundstrokes – inviting constant pressure as balls frequently caught the line and she had no reply.
The commentator called it the best he’d seen Ostapenko play, even including her Parisian fortnight six years ago, in what was a highlight reel of brilliant ball-striking.
What’s next for both?
Tougher tests await if she’s to sustain that high aggression and precision in a fiercely-competitive WTA 500 event, starting with Charleston champion Ons Jabeur tomorrow. As for Raducanu, it’s difficult to judge when she’s not playing weekly.
She showed some encouraging signs during her run to the last-16 at Indian Wells, but there have been four events across three continents since then and she’s played just once. More match play is needed, especially on a new surface until early June.
Raducanu must now navigate through another tricky schedule, having failed to defend her ranking points from this tournament twelve months ago.
With WTA 1000 events in Madrid and Rome over the next month, draws become even more difficult as a lower-ranked player and the possibility of early exits heightened.
On the same day Russell Fuller’s BBC feature questioned why a Grand Slam tennis nation like Britain doesn’t have far more top-100 players, and Tumaini Carayol discussed the wider issue of limited WTA Tour events, it’s laid bare.
Caroline Garcia, reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, 2021 Roland Garros titlist Barbora Krejcikova and Beatriz Haddad Maia all featured in Billie Jean King Cup play last week and the lowest ranked player from that quartet is the latter at #14.
Last year’s French Open finalist Coco Gauff, a year and four months younger than Raducanu, also represented the US in their qualifying fixtures and faces a stern first-round test against Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova tomorrow.
Raducanu has logged just ten matches in the first four-and-a-half months of 2023, a number that needs to improve and quickly before her season continues to stagnate.
Picture source: Getty Images