It was as if the US Open really had been all some kind of dream, and Emma Raducanu was a hesitant newcomer making her debut at Indian Wells.
The champion of New York turned out to be no queen of the desert as she was soundly beaten on her first appearance since Flushing Meadows, going down 6-2 6-4 to the world number 100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich at the BNP Paribas Open.
Everything was different here, from the super slow hard court to her support personnel to the result. The jaunty and irrepressible air that Raducanu displayed during her astonishing Grand Slam victory was replaced by flat body language. It was as if she had the weight of the surrounding mountains on her shoulders.
Emma Raducanu crashed out of the second round at Indian Wells with a straight sets defeat
World number 100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich handed Raducanu her first loss since August 22
On a cool evening the huge stadium was less than a quarter full as this event struggles to pull in the crowds with its temporary October date. Those present did try to get behind the new British number one as she briefly pulled ahead in the second set, but were silenced again as she went down amid a welter of errors.
What had been billed as Brit night was rescued by Andy Murray later, when he defeated Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 6-3 6-2.
Raducanu responded maturely to this setback against an opponent who had already experienced these sluggish conditions in the first round. A measure of her youth is that the British player has still not won a set in a match on the standard WTA Tour at the level beneath the Grand Slams.
‘You can easily get sucked into being so focused on the result and getting disappointed,’ reasoned the Kent teenager.
‘I mean, I’m 18 years old. I need to cut myself some slack. I haven’t had much experience with night matches. I’ve only played one before on (Arthur) Ashe. I’m still very, very new to the tour. I think that experience just comes from playing week in, week out.
Raducanu despite her US Open triumph has still not won a set in a standard WTA tour match beneath the Grand Slams
‘I’m kind of glad that what happened today happened so I can learn and take it as a lesson. So going forward I’ll have more experienced banked. You’re going to have highs and you’re always going to have some lows where you’re disappointed with how you performed.
‘Aliaksandra played a great match. You could tell she’s more experienced than me. She went out there and executed her game plan better than I did.’
Does this mean that New York was some never-to-be-repeated freak occurrence which only happened because all the stars aligned? Absolutely not, but it is a reality check and further proof that anything can happen on what is a very open WTA Tour at present.
It also makes the call to dispense with coach Andrew Richardson immediately after the US Open look even less fathomable. He was not there in the box as a reassuring presence, and nor was her physio Will Herbert, two massive components of the tight-knit group that helped guide her during that magical fortnight.
There is also the reminder – which she surely does not need – that the extra curricular activities and rewards springing from the events of last month are all secondary to what happens out on the court.
She will now fly home with the prospect of three tournaments coming up indoors around Europe, starting in Moscow. Whether she plays them all remains open to question, and qualifying for next month’s year-end finals in Mexico now looks nigh on impossible.
Raducanu actually started off like a train against her Belarusian opponent, a canny campaigner who is better than her ranking suggests.
The Brit looked flat in comparison to the jaunty and irrepressible air she displayed in New York
Andy Murray beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in straight sets after Raducanu’s defeat
The British player won the first six points, seamlessly picking up from where she left off at Flushing Meadows, like a player who had not lost a set since mid-August.
Yet with the ball not going through the court the errors soon began to appear and she was broken in the third game. Sasnovich played an excellent first set, standing close in to attack the second serve and almost cutting out groundstroking mistakes entirely.
Raducanu regularly overhit beyond the baseline as she struggled to find her length. Her returns, so impressive in New York, were failing to do much damage. Her footwork and body language were stiff – this was not the ‘free hit’ she had been enjoying at the Grand Slam.
Sasnovich broke early in the second but then her level dropped off and Raducanu forged her way to 4-2 amid plenty of errors on both sides. It looked like Raducanu might problem serve her way out of this, and she began to hit the ball more in a cross court pattern.
Yet when she threatened to pull away the mistakes came back and she began to unravel against someone who has been ranked as high as number 30 in the world, the odd wild slap of the ball creeping in towards the end.
This result might be a blessing in disguise for someone seeking to fill in the plentiful gaps of experience which remain. It is not a drama or a crisis but a return to earth for someone had, prior to this, defied the laws of gravity.