Emma Raducanu stages stunning fightback to keep GB alive in Billie Jean King Cup

Emma Raducanu – Emma Raducanu stages stunning fightback to keep GB alive in Billie Jean King Cup
Emma Raducanu is back in the Great Britain team for the first time in two years after injury - Getty Images/Aurelien Meunier

Emma Raducanu took inspiration from her team-mates as she fought back from a set down to defeat Caroline Garcia and keep British hopes alive in Le Portel.

‌This was a huge and unexpected bonus, both for Raducanu and her colleagues, after British No 1 Katie Boulter had managed just two games in the opening rubber.

‌For the visitors, all appeared lost when Raducanu slipped to a 6-3, 2-0 deficit after an hour’s play. But then she heard a voice from the sidelines. It was Fran Jones, the team’s most exuberant character, telling her to “step in” and attack Garcia’s feared serve.

‌“I heard Fran Jones on the side of the court going ‘Step in’ and I literally looked at her, like, ‘I’m stepping in!’” Raducanu explained after the match.

‌“I think I gave her the biggest evils at 2-0 down but then it worked. By taking her second serve on a little bit more, it put a bit more pressure on, I guess. Also, I was in a more offensive position on my second shot.

‌“It was really good tennis,” Raducanu concluded. “I’m very pleased with my level, and especially to play such a tough opponent like Caroline, it’s a great match for me to win.”

‌Raducanu came into this contest as a hefty underdog. Listening to her pre-match chat about clay – a surface she claimed to be bonding with – we thought she was applying spin to an unpromising situation. Who wants to play a team as talented as the French in their home conditions?

‌Garcia is a former world No 4 who goes after every shot like a sniper aiming for a quick kill. She can be irresistible when the force is with her, as Naomi Osaka has already found out twice this season. But Raducanu never lost faith in her own ability to turn the match – and the whole tie – around.

‌“I actually really loved going out there one-love down,” she said afterwards, “and knowing I had to perform to get the team to equal. I actually love that responsibility on my shoulders. I don’t shy away from it. And that’s something that is probably one of my strengths.

‌“So I went out there and I was like, ‘Hey, this is all on you today.’ I definitely used the team. I used everyone on the bench. I used Anne [Keothavong, the team captain] on the side of the court and I felt the energy of the crowd. I’m very happy to go into tomorrow at one point all.”

‌This win was all the more creditable because of Raducanu’s inexperience on clay. Before the tie, she had predicted that “In the future, it is going to be a surface that will actually really suit me.” But she had still only played 12 previous matches on the stuff, whereas Garcia’s experience ran into the hundreds.

‌Even so, as the match wore on, Raducanu got the measure of Garcia’s hit-or-bust style, reeling off 11 of the last 14 games to close out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory. It was her best win on ranking – and on artistic impression – since she beat Beatriz Haddad Maia 13 months ago in Indian Wells.

‌One of the most encouraging takeaways was Raducanu’s strong physicality throughout – although it may have been helpful that Garcia never looks to extend rallies past half-a-dozen shots.

‌“I know that was a very physical match for me to put my body through,” said Raducanu, whose fragility has been her biggest challenge since her astonishing US Open win in 2021. “I know to play Caroline, who’s been in the top ten and won the Tour Finals, it’s not something that I take lightly. I knew that I had to really dig deep and be super physical just to keep it competitive, let alone to win. So I’m very pleased with how I held up there physically. I don’t think I really wavered at any point in the match. And that’s a big win for me.”

‌As Raducanu powered towards the finish line, she quieted the French crowd, so that the sound of her best shots echoed around a silent arena. Her jaw was clenched in determination and her focus on the ball was so absolute that she mistakenly celebrated the victory after moving to 5-1 in the decider.

‌“Sometimes I am just so super locked in that I don’t really get the score,” Raducanu said afterwards. “I am not sure what happened. It was quite embarrassing. All I was thinking was that if I lose this now, I’m going to look a right muppet, so I’m very happy I managed to pull it through in the next [service] game.”

‌The win means that Boulter – who was thumped 6-2, 6-0 by Diane Parry in the day’s first rubber – will start with a clean slate when she faces Caroline Garcia on Saturday afternoon. A maximum of three matches remain.

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