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Emma Raducanu is facing growing concerns over her fitness after suffering another injury scare in Great Britain's defeat to Czech Republic in the Billie Jean King Cup.
Raducanu played with a blister on her right foot in a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Marketa Vondrousova in Prague and Britain captain Anne Keothavong admits the struggling US Open winner now “needs to become more robust”.
The defeat in Prague was the latest setback for the US Open winner, who has faced a number of problems with blisters as the rigours of top-level tennis take their toll.
“Emma still hasn’t completed a full year on tour for any young player even though what she has achieved is exceptional, it does take time for a player to get used to life on the tour and get more robust,” Keothavong said. “She certainly needs to become more robust and that certainly isn’t a secret and she is working on it.”
There are now fears that Raducanu, who had to bathe her foot in surgical spirits after the match, could miss next week’s Stuttgart Open. “I’m going to do everything I can to prepare as best as possible," the world No 12 said. "Hopefully I can make it there and play. But you know I can’t say for certain either way.”
A blister on her hand was her undoing at the Australian Open and she struggled with a hip injury at the Guadalajara Open in February.
The British No 1 made light of losing her toenails in practice earlier this week and that affliction seemed to have little impact as she beat Tereza Martincova in straight sets on Friday. But questions will no doubt be raised about the British No 1’s physical frailties after this latest loss which put Great Britain 2-1 down in Prague before Harriet Dart levelled matters.
She revealed that she will have to examine her foot issues which also included her losing her toenails practicing ahead of the Billie Jean King Cup, although that affliction did not impact her performance. “I have had a few blisters on my feet before for sure, but I think it’s related to numerous things. So, I’m just going to go and evaluate all my options in all sorts of feet scenarios. Because this has happened quite a few times now. And we need to nip it in the bud like now.”
After a win on her professional clay debut against Martincova on Friday, hopes were high that Raducanu could inspire Britain to a shock win in Prague. But those were dented following her injury-hit display and even though Dart subsequently won in the singles, a defeat in the deciding doubles match sealed Britain's fate.
“[The blister] completely stopped me from moving. It’s tough not to be even able to chase the ball," Raducanu added. "Even if a ball came around me, I was struggling to get my feet up out of the way and moving to my backhand. It was compromising every shot I had to play. So, it’s very disappointing when you’re out there playing a rubber for your country and you feel completely redundant. But I guess I can’t really do anything about it.”
Dart, who has just broken into the world top 100, beat 16-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova in three sets sending the tie to a deciding doubles rubber. Yet Britain were defeated when Vondrousova and Karolina Muchova beat Dart and Katie Swan 6-4, 7-5 in front of a partisan crowd.
For all the gloom, Raducanu was determined to see the positive side. “It is frustrating for sure," she added. "But in some sort of twisted way, it gives me a sense of confidence and relief that I don’t think it’s my tennis that’s the issue. I think my tennis level is pretty good. It’s just about being able to repeat it or maintain it or not be hampered by any sort of physical issues. As soon as I sort all of these things out, and keep building on my tennis level, then I think that I’ll be able to put up good matches back-to-back.”
In fairness to Raducanu – physical issues aside – her opponent is one of the strongest clay specialists on the WTA Tour. Vondrousova reached the singles final of the 2019 French Open and took great confidence from winning a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Currently ranked 32nd in the world, if Raducanu wasn't a grand slam champion, there would have been little expectation for her to win this match – like any other 19-year-old in her first full professional season.
Czech captain Petr Pala made the surprise choice to replace Martincova with the teenage debutante Fruhvirtova who reached the last 16 of the Miami Open for the fourth rubber against Dart.
The British No 2 looked to be easing towards victory after winning the first nine games and leading 6-0 5-2 but struggled with nerves closing out the second set and found herself having to fight out a third set.
Dart rallied, though, opening up a 5-0 lead and making it across the line to win 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 - her first singles success in the Billie Jean King Cup.
That made it 2-2, sending the tie to a deciding doubles rubber. However, it was not to be for the brave Britons as they looked outpowered in the first set, but Dart and Swan showed both a telepathy and a resilience which will be important for Britain’s hopes going forward, almost pushing the Czechs to a third set.
The British have never won the Billie Jean King Cup or its previous incarnation the Fed Cup, while the Czechs with their strong history in women’s tennis have won 11 times. They were missing their top three players: Karolina Pliskova, the former world No 1, Petra Kvitova and Katerina Siniakova but still managed to win.
Despite losing out to the Czechs for a place in the Billie Jean Cup finals, Britain are among the countries bidding to stage the finals and may qualify as host nation.
Emma Raducanu vs Marketa Vondrousova, as it happened
That's all folks
Tough day in the office for Raducanu. Difficult to analyse her suitability to clay courts given the two contrasting matches.
Fingers crossed her foot problem isn't too serious.
Harriet Dart will want to bounce back from her own heavy defeat to Vondrousova in the fourth singles match of the tie.
She plays 16-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova, who is ranked 170 in the world. If Dart can win, we go to a winner takes all doubles match.
Raducanu 1-6, 1-6 Vondrousova* (*denotes server)
Stylish drop shot by Raducanu to win the opening point. Then a forehand winner. Vondrousova ace, 15-30.
Raducanu backhand wide, match point. GAME SET MATCH Vondrousova. Raducanu nets a forehand to lose the match and the Czechs move 2-1 ahead with 2 matches left.
Raducanu* 1-6, 1-5 Vondrousova (*denotes server)
Raducanu double fault, 15-15. Whenever Raducanu moves to her right, she's in trouble.
Super ball striking by Vondrousova and she finishes with a forehand winner, 30-40.
Vondrousova lob winner. Stunning finish to break.
Raducanu 1-6, 1-4 Vondrousova* (*denotes server)
Raducanu is wincing and grimincing. She must be debating whether to carry on. But she goes on and drills a backhand winner down the line, 15-15.
Bad volley from Raducanu, 40-15. Vondrousova ace to finish.
Raducanu* 1-6, 1-3 Vondrousova (*denotes server)
Raducanu is clearly labouring but Vondrousova gifting her points at the moment. A clever drop shot by Vondrousova makes it 30-30. She knows Raducanu can't chase it.
Raducanu backhand error, 30-40. Vondrousova overcooks a backhand and that allows Raducanu to stay in the game.
Raducanu forehand long, another break point. Raducanu can't get any jump in her service motion.
Raducanu backhand wide and Vondrousova breaks her serve for the sixth time.
Raducanu 1-6, 1-2 Vondrousova* (*denotes server)
What's happened here? Three double faults from Vondrousova and Raducanu breaks back.
But her body language doesn't look good.
Raducanu* 1-6, 0-2 Vondrousova (*denotes server)
The LTA say that Raducanu was treated off court for a blister on her right foot.
We'll see if her movement is impacted. Raducanu nets a forehand, 15-30. Then another mid court forehand, 15-40. Far too many errors today.
Raducanu saves the first. Great defense by Vondrousova but Raducanu keeps her composed to finally draw the error, deuce.
Raducanu error, break point. Vondrousova backhand return winner that Raducanu didn't even move for. She is clearly hampered.
Second Set: Raducanu 1-6, 0-1 Vondrousova* (*denotes server)
After a near 10-minute delay, Raducanu finally returns to court. Lets hope whatever treatment she's received has the desired effect.
Vondrousova has lost a bit of momentum with the time delay and slips to 15-40 with a double fault.
Raducanu nets a forehand on the first break point. Then a backhand. Bad miss. Deuce.
Vondrousova overhead winner. And she recovers from those early troubles to hold with a forehand winner.
The wait goes on...
Still no sign of Raducanu, who is receiving a medical timeout.
Vondrousova has left the court as well, most likely to stay warm.
Raducanu injury worry
Raducanu leaves the court with the Team GB physio for some treatment. Not clear yet what the issue is.
Perhaps her toenails again?
Raducanu* 1-6 Vondrousova (*denotes server)
Vondrousova is working the angles so well, hitting the ball with better depth and height. Raducanu continues to spray the ball across the court waywardly.
And she double faults to lose the opening set, 6-1. Much work for the Brit to do!
Raducanu 1-5 Vondrousova* (*denotes server)
Big Raducanu forehand winner by Raducanu, 0-15. She has to go for it now that she's playing catch up. Vondrousova double fault, her second of the match, 30-30.
Raducanu goes for it on the return but goes long. Bad miss. And she's punished again as Vondrousova whips a lovely forehand winner down the line.
Raducanu* 1-4 Vondrousova (*denotes server)
When Vondrousova gets Raducanu on the run, she continues to get joy. She stretches the US Open champion wide and the teen nets a forehand slice, 15-30.
Raducanu backhand long, 15-40. Two break points. Vondrousova with a gorgeous drop shot to break again.
Huge roar from the Czech.
Raducanu 1-3 Vondrousova* (*denotes server)
A chance for Raducanu as she releases the handbrake and gets to 0-40. Vondrousova saves the first two. But not the third as she puts a backhand into the net.
Three breaks of serve in four games.
Raducanu* 0-3 Vondrousova (*denotes server)
Raducanu has no answer to Vondrousova's shot making at the moment. She double faults to fall 0-40 again.
And another error allows the Czech to get a double break.
Raducanu 0-2 Vondrousova* (*denotes server)
Super play by Vondrousova. Dominating from the baseline then finishing with a deft volley, 15-0. Vondrousova has settled much quicker and hits her first ace to make it 40-15.
And she consolidates the break when Raducanu puts a forehand into the tramlines.
First Set: Emma Raducanu* 0-1 Marketa Vondrousova (*denotes server)
First point is a lengthy exchange and Raducanu blinks first to miss with a forehand. She then nets a forehand, 0-30.
Poor volley by Raducanu and she is punished as Vondrousova easily puts away a forehand down the line. Three break points.
Raducanu saves the first with a nice drop shot. Then the second when Vondrousova nets a backhand return. But not the third as she puts a backhand long to lose serve.
Harriet Dart will play Tereza Martincova in the fourth match of the tie. And there could be a double match if required.
The tie is 1-1.
Here we go...
... the players are out on court for the third match of the tie.
Nice atmosphere building.
Emma Raducanu savoured a landmark win as she drew Great Britain level with the Czech Republic at the end of the first day of their Billie Jean King Cup tie in Prague.
The US Open champion's clash with 50th-ranked Tereza Martincova was not just her senior competitive debut for Britain but also her first professional match on clay - another example of the remarkable career trajectory the 19-year-old has been on.
The pressure was on Raducanu after Harriet Dart's 55-minute 6-1 6-0 thrashing by Marketa Vondrousova and she rose to the challenge impressively, claiming a 7-5 7-5 victory.
It was just Raducanu's third victory of the season - with Martincova the highest-ranked player she has beaten since New York - and was particularly satisfying after a series of matches in which she has failed to build on strong starts.
"This win definitely meant a lot to me because this year I've won a lot of first sets, I've been leading matches, and to actually close it out in two sets gave me a lot of confidence," said the 19-year-old.
"And just for the team, we're still in this, we're fighting, it's all to play for tomorrow. And it being my first match on clay for four years, it's pretty insane. I don't know how it's been that long."
Raducanu last played on the surface back in 2018 in French Open juniors but this performance was notable for the way she learned as she went along, saving a set point at 4-5 in the opener and then fighting back from 1-4 in the second.
"What pleased me the most was the adapting I had to do because the conditions changed a lot, it was sunny and then cold and then a lot of wind picked up," she said.
"Also on clay there are many bad bounces so I was struggling a lot with that and had to find a way to adapt. And I'm very pleased with the way that I managed to up my intensity after trailing 1-4 in the second set and overcome that dip."
The victory was essential for Britain if they are to cause a major upset against the perennial champions, with Dart's one-sided loss to former French Open finalist Vondrousova a demonstration of the size of their task.
Captain Anne Keothavong said: "First and foremost I thought it was a really gutsy performance from Emma and for her to be able to close that match in straight sets it took a huge effort.
"I think we have to go into tomorrow believing we've got a good chance. We came here as underdogs, the Czechs were heavy favourites and still are the heavy favourites."
Three points are needed for victory and, first up on Saturday, Raducanu will try to earn her second against Vondrousova in what is a hugely intriguing match.
Raducanu defeated the 22-year-old comfortably in the second round of Wimbledon last year when she was an unknown quantity on the world stage but this is not just Vondrousova's best surface, the tie is also being played at the Cesky club where she grew up.
"I feel like grass and clay are the polar opposites so it is going to be a different match," said Raducanu.
"It's her home surface, her home match, but I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a big challenge and probably the toughest opponent that I'm going to play on clay early days so it will be a great test for me to see where I'm at and build for the rest of the season.
"Every match I'm taking as a learning experience but the team are so fired up for tomorrow."
Both captains have the option of changing their teams and an intriguing possibility for Keothavong could be 20-year-old Sonay Kartal, who has been in brilliant form at lower-level events over the last six months.