August 10, 2022

By the end, even the most enthusiastic followers of Emma Raducanu had awoken to reality.

There was a tall chap with a large wine glass, regularly replenished with something cold and white, whose voice boomed out across Centre Court at regular intervals. He wanted Emma to go on, or come on, he was certain she could do it. As her final service game went the way of two that had preceded it, even he fell silent. 

There was a painful inevitability on display here, a crushing lesson learned, after the gutsiness of her Centre Court debut on Monday. Raducanu was simply blown away by the power and tactical prowess of her opponent, Caroline Garcia. This wasn’t simply about experience, although it no doubt helped. Raducanu looked slight, almost weak, compared to what Garcia was offering. 

British No 1 Emma Raducanu suffered a straight sets-defeat – losing 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court to Caroline Garcia

Raducanu was knocked out of Wimbledon after she was comfortably beaten by Garcia on Wednesday afternoon

Raducanu was knocked out of Wimbledon after she was comfortably beaten by Garcia on Wednesday afternoon

‘I didn’t have enough ball speed today,’ she lamented. There was a bit of wind about, too, but bottom line she looked what she is, a 19-year-old playing her second Wimbledon, overwhelmed by a superior opponent with greater strength and smarts. 

The US Open victory looks stranger with each passing day. It was a brilliant run, of raw talent and momentum, but it is an outlier in Raducanu’s career path to here. She has not won three games straight at any tournament since Flushing Meadows, so this exit is not really the greatest surprise.

Even so: Wednesday. Nobody expected the world from Raducanu but they perhaps expected more than a Wednesday exit, the annual preserve of the plucky British also ran. And that is what Raducanu most resembled.

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She had the crowd on her side, and she tried her best, but she was nowhere near good enough. The spirit she displayed against Alison Van Uytvanck at the start of the week deserted her too. That day Raducanu swept five of the final six games, and the match. 

Here, the reverse occurred, Garcia winning five of six, including three breaks of serve. Raducanu’s game simply collapsed in what must surely be a chastening defeat. 

Controversy surrounds her preparation across the last year, the changes of coach, and sometimes no coach at all, but any criticism can be answered with three words: US Open champion. Has anyone won a Grand Slam like Emma Raducanu? No? Well, shut up then.

But it’s a year now and Raducanu’s career path is no longer a comet in the sky. Faced with a canny opponent like Garcia – formerly a world No 4, even if those days are behind her – she looked a little lost. 

Even a toilet break after conceding the first set in 39 minutes – and if your kids asked for that from the back of car on holiday, you’d tell them they should have gone before leaving the house – failed to get her act together. 

Raducanu was simply unable to find the level required to match Frenchwoman Garcia who was resilient throughout the match

Raducanu was simply unable to find the level required to match Frenchwoman Garcia who was resilient throughout the match

Expectations were high for the Brit, with Raducanu winning her only previous clash against Garcia in Indian Wells in March

Expectations were high for the Brit, with Raducanu winning her only previous clash against Garcia in Indian Wells in March

The reigning US Open champion has not won successive matches at a Grand Slam since her triumph in America last year

The reigning US Open champion has not won successive matches at a Grand Slam since her triumph in America last year

Apart from a single service game won to love in the second set, Raducanu never found her rhythm, or her strategy. She had already saved a first set point on her serve, before going down on Garcia’s serve 6-2. The second set was simply taken away from her, the way she did to Van Uytvanck two days ago. Those performances were chalk and cheese, but so were the opponents.

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Garcia prepared for Wimbledon by winning the Bad Hamborg Open on grass, defeating Bianca Adreescu of Canada in the final, so the warning was there. From the start, she appeared the more confident player, despite the local support for Raducanu. 

‘Yes, I won a title in Germany but you have to start all over again and I won my first match 7-6 in the third set against a British wildcard,’ said Garcia. ‘That is what Is nice about tennis – we all start from zero and we have to go for it all over again.’

She could have been talking about Raducanu there who may have to reset from nought, barring another fairytale of New York. She cannot continue being taken aback by the standard of competition in what is hardly a vintage era for women’s tennis. 

There may not be a clutch of brilliant players at the top of the elite but general strength in the ranks remains – and she is no longer a secret to any of them.

Garcia, the former No 4 ranked player in the world, held strong to see of Raducanu in the 86-minute contest

Garcia, the former No 4 ranked player in the world, held strong to see of Raducanu in the 86-minute contest

The 19-year-old was unable to overturn her first set loss and struggled to get back into the match despite home support

The 19-year-old was unable to overturn her first set loss and struggled to get back into the match despite home support

The vanquished at Flushing Meadows were blindsided by this British teenager – somebody from nowhere, as Joe Orton once had it – taking the tournament by storm. Now they know her, the strengths, the weaknesses, the quirks that seemed wonderful at first but may now be undermining her progress. 

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Raducanu, too, is gaining experience – but while she now knows what it is like to play on Centre Court, the 28-year-old Garcia knows what it is like to play her, too. She wasn’t phased by the home support either. It was, she rationalised, just like being a French player at Roland Garros. 

No harm, no foul. It did not look for one second as if it bothered her. Garcia had lost in three sets to Raducanu at Indian Wells but that merely served as a scouting exercise. This time she knew precisely what to do. She attacked ceaselessly and, in particular, was all over Raducanu’s forehand. 

If Raducanu’s first serve missed, Garcia would stand up to her second like a wicket-keeper to a spin bowler. She charged the net, she hit with confidence and power, with huge topspin on her forehand, she played with enormous clarity and purpose. She possessed everything Raducanu did not.

Often, Raducanu was down on her haunches on the baseline just fighting to stay in the game. It is no exaggeration to say she looked a little bullied out there. It was a defeat that cannot be easily dismissed, because it raised so many difficult questions. Other players will have watched this and seen a blueprint. It does not become easier for Raducanu after this. ‘I’ll just get better,’ she insisted, as the coping strategy. It’s not as simple as that. She has talked about having a target on her back. It hasn’t simply got bigger. Garcia has ensured it now comes with a set of instructions of how to hit bullseye.

Raducanu played only seven games in British grass-court events leading up to her opening match after injury concerns

Raducanu played only seven games in British grass-court events leading up to her opening match after injury concerns