Unfortunately, Emma Raducanu faced a challenging obstacle in her journey to regain her top form and consistency after recovering from an injury. She was eliminated in the opening round of the Qatar Open by Anhelina Kalinina, ranked 30th in the world, with a score of 6-0, 7-6 (6).
Raducanu, currently ranked 262nd, had recently traveled to Doha for the second leg of the extended Middle Eastern tour after a successful performance in Abu Dhabi. She advanced to the second round with an impressive 6-4, 6-1 win against No 36 Marie Bouzkova, marking one of her strongest victories since the beginning of 2023. However, she was ultimately defeated by No 6 ranked Ons Jabeur in the second round.
In the blustery and slow conditions of Doha, Raducanu faced a formidable opponent and struggled from the start. The 21-year-old had difficulty finding her groove and her number of unforced errors increased as Kalinina tirelessly chased after balls, extended rallies, and outplayed her from the baseline. Kalinina easily took the first set, with only two unforced errors compared to Raducanu’s 15.
The winner of the 2021 US Open started to improve her accuracy and energy in the second set, pushing herself closer to the baseline and aiming to hit the ball early with both her forehand and backhand in order to dominate the rallies. After Kalinina broke her serve to go up 6-5 and had two match points, Raducanu managed to save them both and even reached a set point at 6-5 during the tie-break. However, Kalinina ultimately outlasted her opponent in a series of impressive and long rallies, winning the final three points to claim the win.
Although Raducanu struggled in the first set, she showed some improvement in her performance towards the end. Lately, the British player has been focused on playing a more aggressive style of tennis, especially utilizing her forehand to take charge. In the second set, she had moments of playing beautifully and her shots were stronger than Kalinina’s. However, to maintain this level, Raducanu needs to work on consistency and reducing the number of errors she made in Monday’s match, especially on her forehand side.
Finding rhythm after long layoffs is extremely difficult and it usually takes time but Raducanu’s scheduling upon her return to competition has been curious. Instead of starting afresh and attempting to rebuild her form at a lower level, such as by playing the WTA 250 event in Cluj last week, she has opted to take wildcards into big events. Even if she had pulled out a victory over Kalinina, the in-form eighth seed Jelena Ostapenko would have been heavily favoured to beat her in the second round.
The recent changes made by the WTA to their calendar have made it more challenging for players to participate in lower level events. While ATP players have three tournaments to choose from each week in February, with seven ATP 250s being held this month, the WTA calendar now prioritizes larger events. This week, the only event available is the WTA 1000 Qatar Open, and there are only two WTA 250 events scheduled for this month. Raducanu has decided not to request a wildcard for the WTA 1000 event in Dubai next week and instead will return home to train for the back-to-back WTA 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.
On Monday evening in Doha, Naomi Osaka made a noteworthy advancement in her return by defeating 15th seed Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-4 to progress to the second round.
Before achieving this win, Osaka had only been successful in one out of her first four matches since she came back to the tennis world after becoming a mother to her daughter, Shai. In her most recent match, Osaka appeared to be struggling as she lost the last nine games of her 7-5, 6-0 loss against Danielle Collins in Abu Dhabi. Osaka had previously played against Garcia in the first round of the Australian Open, where she put up a good fight but was unable to create any break opportunities against the French opponent.
During the initial stages, Garcia appeared focused and successful, securing a 5-3 advantage by breaking her opponent. However, Osaka managed to bounce back and win the last four games of the first set. As the match progressed, Osaka gained more confidence in her shots and ultimately secured the crucial break in the final game. In her next match, Osaka will compete against Croatia’s Petra Martic as she aims to win back-to-back matches for the first time since returning to the court.