MIKE DICKSON: Is it time to worry about Raducanu? Former US Open champ faces dropping out of top 100

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Emma Raducanu suffered a sobering 6-2, 6-1 defeat by Jelena Ostapenko at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart on Tuesday night. 

There is a chance she could drop out of the world’s top 100 if her form does not improve soon. 

So what happened and what next for the former US Open champion?

Stuttgart slaying

A stacked 32-player draw peppered with top-10 performers meant there was never likely to be such a thing as an easy first round in Stuttgart this year, and Raducanu duly found herself up against former French Open champion Ostapenko.

As can happen with the Latvian, she can blow hot and fire off winner after winner, as she showed. The British player lacked the tools to resist and was overpowered, but the level of Ostapenko’s ball-striking should lend some perspective to the result.

Emma Raducanu suffered a sobering defeat at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart

Emma Raducanu suffered a sobering defeat at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart

Nonetheless, Raducanu found this unusual indoor clay event to her liking last year, and managed two wins (albeit against lower- ranked opposition) and then put in a creditable showing in the quarter-final against Iga Swiatek, the world No 1 from Poland, before losing 6-4, 6-4.

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In that sense it is hard to frame this as any progress, and the loss of those points from last season is why she is poised to slip down the rankings next week, from 68.

Madrid menace

The clay season steps up another notch next week with its biggest tournament to date, the Madrid Open at the Caja Magica. 

Raducanu won two rounds there last year, giving her 120 points to defend from 2022. That is why the danger exists that she could drop to around the cusp of the top 100 if a first win cannot be gleaned since a promising display at Indian Wells earlier last month. 

The altitude in the Spanish capital makes the conditions lively, and that should help a little on a surface that is still the one Raducanu will find most difficult to master. 

There is at least some familiarity now, and she should have plenty of time to become accustomed to the different bounces of Madrid.

Raducanu was thrashed by French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Tuesday night

Raducanu was thrashed by French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Tuesday night

Missing momentum

Gaining momentum is key, and Raducanu is not alone in the British game in having doubt surrounding whether she is getting enough tournament playing time.

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In her case the reason given is that she is constantly managing a body which — more than 18 months on from her astonishing New York triumph — is still prone to breaking down.

The same question about playing enough surrounds compatriots such as Katie Boulter and Katie Swan. Boulter was due to play in Nottingham this week following her one match at the Billie Jean King Cup on Friday, but she pulled out. 

There may come a time when Raducanu would be best served by playing in the qualifying or some lesser events, especially as her ranking may dictate that she increasingly needs to rely on wildcards for the bigger tournaments, potentially even Wimbledon.

Billie blunder?

Should she have played at the Billie Jean King Cup in Coventry? With points to defend in Stuttgart and the demands of the abrupt change from hard courts to clay required, there was some argument for Raducanu sitting out Coventry.

However, she may have found a free hit against higher-ranked French players, backed by a home crowd, beneficial. She may also have been buoyed by the environment of familiar and supportive faces, because one thing you sense about her is that she is not enjoying the game much right now.

The 20-year-old has struggled since her Grand Slam win in New York in 2021

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The 20-year-old has struggled since her Grand Slam win in New York in 2021

And with so much commercial activity going on, the suspicion will always arise that decisions are being made with commercial factors in mind, such as her sharing a sponsor in Porsche with the Stuttgart event.

Keep calm

Raducanu is still only 20, not the first to struggle after a Grand Slam win, and at Indian Wells last month gave a reminder of her rich ability by beating two opponents ranked in the top 25. Once Madrid is over she has only 70 points to defend through to the beginning of August, from winning a round at the French Open last year.

Her game is still a work in progress, and the set-up around her is more stable than it was. Much will depend on keeping the body intact, and accepting that there should be no fear in playing and learning.

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