Emma Raducanu roars back against Caroline Garcia to level BJK Cup tie

Emma Raducanu roars back against Caroline Garcia to level BJK Cup tie

Returning to the top level of professional tennis after a lengthy injury layoff and trying to rediscover rhythm is a struggle under the best circumstances. For Emma Raducanu, whose career to date has been devoid of order, the road back from multiple surgeries has provided many challenges.

Under the elevated pressure of representing both her country and herself, though, Raducanu took an enormous step forward as she produced the best performance of her comeback to defeat Caroline Garcia, the world No 23, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the Billie Jean King Cup.

The victory marks Raducanu’s first top-30 win on clay and leaves the BJK Qualifying tie between Great Britain and France at 1-1 after the opening day of play. Great Britain were in an ominous position when Raducanu trailed Garcia by a set and a break after Katie Boulter’s 6-2, 6-0 defeat to Diane Parry, France’s No 2, but Raducanu has given her team a fighting chance going into the final day.

“Of course we go into tomorrow equal and we’re not 2-0 down, which is very difficult to fight back from,” said Raducanu. “For me, being a point down and playing against Caroline at home, I was the complete underdog. When I was a set and a break down, I just started swinging. I was like, ‘OK, we’re already losing so might as well go all out. Go big or go home.’ We’re not going home just yet and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

The small French commune of Le Portel is situated on the northern coast of France by the English channel, just 90 miles from London. It is so close to British shores that the surrounding city, Boulogne-sur-Mer, was the strategic point for multiple Roman invasions of Britain. But while the players may not be far from home, the opening match underlined how alien the terrain is to many British players. In her first tour level clay court match, Boulter led 2-0 before losing 12 games in a row to Parry.

While Raducanu has more clay court experience than Boulter, the challenge before her was undeniable. The opening set was played at a high level, with Garcia executing her typically uncompromising brand of attacking tennis. She fired down massive serves while looking to dominate with her forehand and move forward at all costs. She just had more weapons than Raducanu early on and as she established a 6-3, 2-0 lead, she seemed to be moving towards victory.

Diane Parry commiserates with Katie Boulter after her easy Billie Jean King Cup victoryView image in fullscreen

Instead, Raducanu dug deep and spectacularly turned the match around. Against one of the best servers on the tour, she returned brilliantly, putting Garcia under constant pressure with her consistent depth and her determination to take the ball early. She matched Garcia’s heavy ball-striking by refusing to move from the baseline and using the Frenchwoman’s pace against her. Her serve has often been a weakness in decisive moments during matches, but here she found free points in numerous difficult moments.

“I actually wasn’t doing too much wrong even though I was a set and break down, it just came down to a few break points on either side,” said Raducanu. “I think I took a more aggressive position from the second set onwards and I got rewarded for taking more risks.”

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By the final set, Raducanu was playing with a level of freedom she has rarely been able to access since her triumph at the 2021 US Open. She treated the Garcia serve with total disdain, lasering return winners off both wings and rolling through her own service games.

In the end, Raducanu was so “locked in” that she completely lost track of the score. After holding serve for 5-1, she thought she had won the match and she prematurely celebrated the win. No matter, five minutes later she stepped up again to close out a brilliant victory.