INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Almost a month after Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez confronted off in maybe probably the most sudden Grand Slam singles remaining, they returned to motion as headliners.
Neither teenager had performed within the Indian Wells Tennis Backyard till this 12 months, however they have been entrance and heart on Friday, anchoring the night-session schedule of their singles debuts on the BNP Paribas Open.
Raducanu, the big-surprise U.S. Open champion, was assigned to Stadium 1, the largest showplace of the event. Fernandez, the Open runner-up, was assigned to Stadium 2, the second greatest showplace of the event.
Each confronted older and extra skilled opponents. Each had the gang behind them from the beginning, even when there have been empty seats galore in each stadiums.
Canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and postponed once more this 12 months from its customary dates in March, the occasion is predicted to have fewer spectators than common this October.
The scene nonetheless regarded and sounded acquainted on Friday evening. The eating places on web site stay largely the identical, together with the Nobu outlet inside Stadium 2. The rock band that’s led by American doubles stars Mike and Bob Bryan carried out, as common, on the primary stage.
However the Bryans at the moment are retirees after collectively ending their enjoying profession final 12 months, and different main stars are lacking from Indian Wells altogether.
Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are out of the lads’s event. Serena and Venus Williams, and the No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and the No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka are out of the ladies’s occasion.
However among the buzz remained as followers confirmed their proof of vaccination on the entry gates and walked on web site to get a take a look at Raducanu and Fernandez.
Solely Fernandez, a left-handed Canadian, made the a lot of the event: mixing full-cut groundstrokes with deft backhand drop pictures and well-timed excursions to the web to defeat Alizé Cornet 6-2, 6-3.
It was a efficiency brimming with the type of big-point resolve and all-court sparkle that Fernandez displayed on her solution to the ultimate in New York.
Raducanu couldn’t make the identical clean transition. Although she received the primary six factors of her match towards Aliaksandra Sasnovich, that was no trace of issues to come back. The kinds of pictures that Raducanu routinely hit for winners throughout the Open — sharply angled quick-strike returns and swing volleys — usually struck the tape or landed simply lengthy.
Although it initially appeared a pity that her much-anticipated return to competitors was happening in the midst of the evening in London, maybe it was for the most effective.
She didn’t disguise her disappointment throughout her 6-2, 6-4 defeat, gesticulating and twisting away because the unforced errors piled up. Raducanu supplied solely a short and subdued wave to the general public as she exited the court docket after enjoying for one hour and 25 minutes.
“Everybody can beat everybody,” the A hundredth-ranked Sasnovich concluded.
It’s exhausting to argue at this stage in ladies’s tennis. Raducanu did her half to show it in New York, turning into the primary qualifier in tennis historical past to win a Grand Slam singles title and doing so with out shedding a set in solely her second main event look.
However she dropped two units relatively rapidly to Sasnovich, a 27-year-old Belarusian from Minsk who bolstered her thesis about ladies’s tennis parity by stating that she had misplaced within the first spherical of this 12 months’s U.S. Open.
“So, a bit of bit completely different you see,” she mentioned, evaluating her end result to Raducanu’s.
Their previous couple of weeks have been completely different as effectively, with Raducanu making two red-carpet appearances and returning to London as a celebrity in want of a police escort from the airport to her house. That got here solely two months after she completed her highschool exams and have become a full-time tennis skilled.
In an interview this week, Raducanu mentioned that the previous few weeks had been an “out-of-body expertise,” as if she have been “watching it occur” to herself.
She has made some robust calls, selecting final month to not proceed working with the coach Andrew Richardson, a stunning transfer contemplating her breakthrough in New York. Raducanu has defined that she desires a coach with extra expertise on the high of the sport. One logical candidate is Carlos Rodriguez, who coached the previous No. 1s Justine Henin of Belgium and Li Na of China. Li’s longtime agent is Max Eisenbud, who additionally represents Raducanu.
“I feel it’s going to take me time to regulate actually to what’s occurring,” Raducanu mentioned after Friday’s defeat. “I imply, I’m nonetheless so new to the whole lot. Just like the experiences that I’m going by means of proper now, although I won’t really feel 100% superb proper now, I do know they’re for the higher good.”
Raducanu added: “That’s the lesson I feel, which you could simply get sucked into being so centered on the end result and getting disenchanted. I imply, I’m 18 years previous. I would like to chop myself some slack.”
That appears sensible. Friday’s letdown was not an enormous shock. Sasnovich, like many WTA gamers, is extra harmful than her rating suggests. Raducanu is simply getting began on tour. The enjoying situations in Indian Wells are additionally far completely different than in New York the place the ball bounces decrease and winners are typically simpler to provide.
However Fernandez managed to thrive in each settings. Her heavy spin, significantly on the forehand facet, offers her a higher margin of error. She additionally might have benefited from enjoying and profitable a doubles match with the American teenager Coco Gauff on Thursday that helped Fernandez modify to the court docket pace.
Not like Raducanu, Fernandez has not modified her assist staff because the Open. Her health coach, Duglas Cordero, sat subsequent to her mom within the stands and steadily jumped to his ft when Fernandez received a degree, simply as he did in New York. Fernandez even stored her outfit the identical, whereas Raducanu arrived on court docket in a brand new, predominately white ensemble.
Her rituals haven’t modified both: apply strokes and jogging in place between factors; proper fist clenched after success.
She had lots on Friday. She was opportunistic and heading in the right direction towards Cornet, a Frenchwoman who has the baseline expertise to increase rallies and matches.
“It does give me a whole lot of confidence, as a result of Alizé, she’s a really robust opponent,” Fernandez mentioned. “She fights for each level. I’ve practiced together with her, too. We’ve had some robust apply matches. I knew that as we speak was going to be exhausting.”
The third spherical must be more durable. Fernandez’s subsequent opponent, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, was in superb type on Friday as she dominated the highly effective American Madison Keys.
However at the least Fernandez has extra tennis to play in Indian Wells — maybe rather more tennis. Raducanu, after her first go to to the California desert, should now make the lengthy journey again to Europe to play indoor occasions and proceed the variation course of.
Fernandez and Raducanu will lengthy be linked for his or her all-teenager, out-of-the-blue remaining in New York. For now, their paths will diverge.