Is Emma Raducanu back to her best? That is the question fans are wondering after comprehensive wins over Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka at the Western and Southern Open this week.
True, Williams and Azarenka were shadows of their former selves, but there were signs that Raducanu is edging closer to the level displayed on her extraordinary run to the US Open title nearly 12 months ago.
We will get a much better assessment of where the British No 1's game is at when she faces world No 8 Jessica Pegula on Thursday night for a place in the quarter-finals.
Here's how Raducanu's game has come alive on the hard courts of America.
Raducanu won the US Open without dropping a set. That only happens when your serve is firing on all cylinders, and at Wimbledon this year it certainly wasn't.
At the All England Club, amid back-related issues, Raducanu's serve let her down badly. In her defeat to Caroline Garcia in the second round, Raducanu failed to hit an ace, hit three double faults, won just 19 of 42 points on her first serve (45 per cent) and her average first serve speed was 154 km/h, 17km/h slower than the Frenchwoman.
But against Azarenka on Wednesday, she had great rhythm and timing on serve and it was reflected in the numbers: five aces, 74 per cent of first serves in, 61 per cent of points won on the second serve and all three break points saved.
The numbers were similarly impressive against Williams: no double faults, nearly 76 per cent of points won on serve and five aces.
Against Williams, Raducanu looked to be serving from a slightly wider angle than she has done previously:
And despite not possessing a huge serve, Raducanu's accuracy was on point and it paid dividends on multiple occasions against Williams, like on match point when she stretched the American wide and earned the error:
Another telltale sign that Raducanu's confidence is high is when she is able to go on lengthy streaks, taking the match away from her opponent.
Momentum is a vital weapon in tennis and from holding serve to win the first set against Williams 6-4 and Azarenka holding serve at 4-1 in the second set, Raducanu won seventeen games in a row.
This echoes some of the streaks she went on in New York last year: five games in a row against Maria Sakkari in the semis, nine against Shelby Rogers in the fourth round and 11 against Sara Sorribes Tormo in the third round.
After Williams had got one of the breaks back, the pressure was on Raducanu as she served at 4-3. But she was nerveless, as shown at 30-0, playing smartly and using the serve out wide to open up the court:
Raducanu then hits a forehand behind Williams, forcing her into an awkward slice forehand, which lands just past the service line:
And that allows Raducanu to step in and send Williams in the wrong direction with a forehand winner:
Points like that demonstrate how Raducanu is at her best when she is on the baseline, dictating the rally. When she gets on a roll, she is difficult to stop.
Faith in her forehand
With the ups and downs of a first year on the tour, numerous coaching changes and injuries, it should come as no surprise that Raducanu's level has fluctuated wildly.
Speaking after her win over Azarenka, Raducanu admitted that not swinging freely enough had added tension to her tennis.
“I think I have tried a lot of things, and this year I have lost a lot of matches from leading situations and probably just played too tense,” she said.
“I think that I just need to swing, and I just said that these two tournaments, or this tournament especially, I’m just going to swing freely and take that and see what happens.”
This free-swinging approach has been of greatest benefit to her forehand. All year it has been inconsistent and unreliable, especially in key moments. But in the week or so between the defeat to Camila Giorgi in Montreal and the victory over Williams in Cincinnati, Raducanu has clearly been putting in the work on the practice courts with Dmitry Tursunov.
Williams and Azarenka possess two of the biggest forehands the sport has seen but Raducanu was not afraid to go toe-to-toe with them, believing that her technique would withstand the power.
And when the time came to go on the attack, Raducanu never hesitated, pushing them deep, stepping in on the short ball and finishing with winners.
As Azarenka threatened a comeback by earning two break points when Raducanu was serving for the match at 5-2, the Bromley teen hit a timely first serve and put Azarenka in a neutral position with a slice backhand. As shown below, with time on the ball, Raducanu (top) moves forward with complete trust in her forehand:
Then the Briton rifles a deep forehand into the corner, past the despairing Azarenka. Textbook stuff.
All roads lead to Flushing Meadows for Raducanu now, with every minute she can spend on the match court valuable.
It has been a troubled debut season on the WTA Tour for the 19-year-old but given her inexperience at the highest level, that is no great surpirse. Regardless of how she performs at the US Open, which starts in less than a fortnight, there are signs that on hard courts in particular, Raducanu will always pose a threat.