Emma Raducanu forced to retire in WTA's longest match of the year

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Emma Raducanu reacts against Australian tennis player Daria Saville - Emma Raducanu forced to retire in WTA's longest match of the year - EPA
Emma Raducanu reacts against Australian tennis player Daria Saville - Emma Raducanu forced to retire in WTA's longest match of the year - EPA

Emma Raducanu said there was "not much she can do", after she was forced to retire through injury midway through the deciding set of her dramatic three-and-a-half hour first-round match in Guadalajara.

Top seed Raducanu, 19, struggled with a left hip problem late in the third set against 610th-ranked Daria Saville, in what was the WTA's longest match of the year so far despite its premature end.

"Tough match, but I mean not much I can do," Raducanu said in a brief interview post-match, adding that the positive she would take was that "it was a good fight".

It was another disappointing early exit from a tournament for the US Open champion, who was appearing for only the first time since the Australian Open last month, where blisters hampered her second-round loss there.

With Indian Wells only a couple of weeks away, Raducanu hobbling off the court was a worrying sight, especially considering that, two months into the first full season of her career, she was only playing her fourth match of the year.

The ending was all the more disheartening for Raducanu in Mexico because she was just two points away from reaching the second round at a set and 5-3 up, only for Savile (née Gavrilova) to forge an unlikely comeback.

Emma Raducanu - Emma Raducanu forced to retire in WTA's longest match of the year - GETTY IMAGES
Emma Raducanu - Emma Raducanu forced to retire in WTA's longest match of the year - GETTY IMAGES

A one-time top 20 player, who switched allegiance from Russia to Australia, Saville, 27, has seen her ranking plummet after nursing a long-term Achilles injury in recent years. She only gained entry to the WTA 250 tournament in Guadalajara through a special ranking.

But she showed her competitive spirit in a topsy-turvy match, where neither player managed to maintain a high level for prolonged periods, and eventually pushed the second set to a tiebreak before outlasting the injured Raducanu.

Interestingly, after hitting the three hour-mark early in the decider, it looked to be the Australian who was closer to retiring. Under pressure on her serve again, with Raducanu 2-0 up, Saville collapsed after her landing leg cramped up. Remarkably, she recovered to hold onto the game. Though Raducanu challenged the point that clinched it for her opponent, she was bizarrely told HawkEye was down and that she would have to rely on the umpire's original call.

After a little bit of back and forth between her and the umpire, which bought Saville time in the changeover for more attention on her cramping leg, the Australian then immediately broke back against a distracted-looking Raducanu.

When Saville took the lead for the first time since early in the first set at 3-2 up, Raducanu suddenly called on the trainer and went for an off-court seven-minute medical time out. Upon her return, with heavy strapping on the top of her left thigh, she was moving very gingerly but managed to hobble her way through her next service game. While she kept her sense of humour, laughing after hitting an unlikely winner on game point, she then decided she could not continue on her next service game.

Daria Saville - Emma Raducanu forced to retire in WTA's longest match of the year - AP
Daria Saville - Emma Raducanu forced to retire in WTA's longest match of the year - AP

Afterwards, in the customary on-court interview, Saville was asked about Raducanu's retirement but offered no show of support for the teenager.

"I worked hard and believed in myself, so I think I won it," Saville said. "This is probably the first match in a long time when I felt like I was being myself. The most important thing was to compete."

Covid, blisters and now injury - Raducanu’s 2022 false start is putting her rise to the top at risk

By Molly McElwee

Emma Raducanu cannot seem to catch a break. In New York the stars aligned for her to win a historic US Open title, but otherwise her time on tour has been less straightforward over the last eight months. Her retirement from her first-round match in Guadalajara was the latest in a string of short-term injury and illness bouts.

Her retirement at Wimbledon last summer in the fourth round, after she encountered breathing difficulties, was the first instance of trouble for Raducanu. Then at the Transylvania Open in October she cited illness as affecting her performance in her third round loss to contemporary Marta Kostyuk, where she was practically muscled off the court. At the Linz Open the following month a right hip spasm marred her chances against Chinese qualifier Wang Xinyu, ending her breakout season with a tough defeat.

Like in Guadalajara, her loss in Linz was also a lengthy three-setter where her hip struggles began late on, and it is the type of match she still has very limited experience of. At tour level, she has only played five three-set matches in all, winning two and losing three. Her three-set win over Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open was an insight into her fighting spirit, but also worsened the painful blister on her palm which hampered her performance against Danka Kovinic in the next round.

Throw in a bout of Covid in December, which set her training back by weeks, and Raducanu has had tough luck of late.

Her retirement in Guadalajara came after a seven-minute off-court medical timeout, and she quickly realised she would not be able to continue playing. Best-case scenario, it is another short-term injury, which she will be able to recover from in time for Monterrey next week.

Because of her enormous success so far, it is easy to forget Raducanu is embarking on her first full season on tour and, prior to Wimbledon eight months ago, she had been at school and only sporadically entering tournaments.

Unlike other teenagers who started travelling on the ITF circuit full-time from an earlier age, Raducanu still has catching up to do, and will take time to build up the match fitness that top players have cultivated ahead of reaching the tour-level events. These injury hiccups are likely a symptom of that, and hopefully the latest will not spell too much time on the sidelines.