Emma Raducanu celebrated her French Open debut with a mind-over-matter victory, in which she came back from a set down against an even younger opponent: the fresh-faced 17-year-old Czech Linda Noskova.
Raducanu won’t be scaring anyone with her strokeplay in this match, which was scrappy and underpowered. But tennis is about more than just hitting the ball sweetly. In front of a noisy capacity crowd on Court Simone Mathieu, her heart and will shone through.
“It was an absolute battle,” said Raducanu after closing out her 6-7, 7-5, 6-1 victory with a forehand winner. “Linda is playing some amazing tennis and she really came out there firing.
“As soon as I dropped my ball speed, she was all over me and killing me from the end of the first set. So, it was definitely really challanging in the second set to hold on and keep holding my serve and break back a couple of times. I am really proud of the way I fought.”
On the women’s tour, you don’t get to be the Next Big Thing for long. It often feels as if a new teenage prodigy arrives every week, some of them so young that they could almost be delivered by stork.
In slow, heavy conditions, Noskova started out by dominating with her sheer weight of shot, accumulating a massive 48 winners in the match. Raducanu felt as if she was clinging on by her fingernails, moving the ball from side to side in the hope that her free-swinging opponent might eventually miss one of her giant haymakers.
Having lost the first set on a tie-break – in which Noskova claimed six of her seven points with clean winners – Raducanu was twice a break down in the second. At one stage, she was only six points from a defeat which would have looked embarrassing on paper against the world No184 (even if Noskova, last year’s junior champion here, was playing at a vastly higher standard than that).
But Raducanu chiselled out the second set through sheer doggedness, relying on a few nerves surfacing under the smooth skin of her young opponent. Now Noskova started to lose her previously impeccable timing. Her laser-like backhand down the line began to fly long or wide, instead of landing unerringly in the corner.
The upshot was that Raducanu dashed through the deciding set in a ruthless 32 minutes. Her reward will be a second-round meeting with Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus – the same player who beat her last October in Indian Wells, in what was her first outing after the US Open title