Emma Radukanu stumbled in her first match since winning the US Open last month, losing 6-2, 6-4 to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the second round of the Indian Wells tennis tournament on Friday.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Leyla Fernandez, who finished runner-up at the US Open, registered a 6-2, 6-3 win over Alize Cornet of France.
British sensation Radukanu, 18, had an aura of invincibility at Flushing Meadows, where as a tournament qualifier he did not miss a set in 10 matches on his way to his illustrious first Grand Slam title.
But it was a different story under the lights on the stadium court as Radukanu struggled with his accuracy and energy level.
As night wore on, unexpected errors piled up and he never experienced the on-court joy that was a hallmark of his success, despite a supportive crowd.
After the match, he handed his cap to the unseeded Belarusian.
“Aliassandra played a great match,” said the 17th seed.
“She is a very experienced opponent who has been on tour for many years. She was better than me today so she deserves to win.”
The match began quite promisingly for Radukanu when he served with love to start a love affair in the deserts of Southern California.
But errors began to creep in and a closed Sasnovi took full advantage, floating a lob on Radukanu’s outstretched racket to claim the first set.
Radukanu was broken to start the second set, but struggled back to take a 4-2 lead when Sasnovi began to misfire.
The world number 100 was able to right the ship, winning the final four games and sealing the match when Radukanu sent a service return wide at match point.
Radukanu said she is disappointed with the result, but she sees every match as an opportunity to learn.
“The experiences I’m going through right now, even though I don’t feel 100 percent amazing right now, I know they are for the greater good,” she said.
“In the bigger picture, I would thank this moment,” she said.
“I’m 18. I need to loosen myself up a bit,” she later added.
In the wake of his Grand Slam victory, Radukanu attended the Met Gala in New York, the premiere of the James Bond film in London, and even had hit-ups with British royalty, admitting that he was “match-tight” at the time. “It was not.
“I haven’t played a competition in a month since the US Open. He’ll just come playing week in, week out,” she said.
Sasnovich will next face Simona Halep in the third round of the WTA 1000 event, which was not held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.