By Myles David
Emma Raducanu and Bianca Andreescu seem to share quite a bit in common in the tennis world.
– Nike sponsored athletes
– Global brand ambassadors
– Born in Ontario, Canada
– Teenage U.S. Open champions
These are just a few of the similarities the Gen-Z stars could strike up a conversation about in their local coffee shop. Instead, their priorities often pull them into long hours on the practice courts honing their games and bodies to remain at the top of the Women’s Professional Tennis scene. Standing at the forefront of the search for this decade’s new WTA superstar does come with its fair share of trials and tribulations though. Both women experienced post-breakthrough lulls in their on-court performances since hoisting trophies in New York. After Andreescu’s 2019 triumph, she missed the entirety of the pandemic adjusted 2020 season with a torn meniscus and posted a 17 -12 win/loss record during her 2021 return. Similarly, Raducanu’s form since lifting her first major championship has been filled with troubling losses, nagging injuries, and inconsistences in her coaching camp. The teenager was only able to land five match victories before heading into the 2022 European clay court swing.
Luckily for fans of the two burgeoning brunettes, things seem to be swinging in a more positive direction. Both women began their clay season simply trying to find some footing while navigating a surface that neither have had a wealth of experience on. Andreescu was coming off the heels of another lengthy hiatus away from competition as she took time to reset, refocus, and grow. Despite the time away she was able to notch victories in Stuttgart and Madrid with back-to back round of 16 showings. Raducanu entered her clay court season on the backs of disappointing showing during the Indian Wells and Miami Masters tournaments but found a spark of good form by reaching the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and round of 16 in Madrid.
Enter the 2022 Italian Open in Rome.
When the women’s draw was released, all eyes went to the hugely promising 1st round matchup between the two U.S. Open Champions. The fascinating prospect proved even more intriguing as this was the first time the two were slated to go head-to-head and the first time either woman had competed in the Italian capital. The stage seemed set for an early round high-profile showdown, something WTA fans have become increasingly more accustomed to.
Showcasing great focus and executing her signature brand of controlled aggression, Bianca Andreescu raced out to a 5-1 lead in just 30 minutes on court. Both players looked to take initiative early, but Raducanu came up short as Andreescu didn’t allow her to settle into the smooth baseline rhythm she often showcases. Just before Andreescu was set to serve out the first set, Raducanu called the trainer on court for a back issue. The back issues required off court attention and when play resumed, Andreescu wrapped up the first set 6-2 without much fuss. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated clash came to an abrupt halt as Raducanu pulled the plug on the match and retired only three games into the second set. The Brit mentioned in her pre-tournament press conference that she was carrying a “niggling” back injury but hoped to work through it.
Although fans and spectators weren’t treated to the entirety of what could have been, there are still some positive takeaways, one of the largest being Bianca’s full commitment to a return to top form. In only her third tournament back and against the reigning U.S. Open champion, she showed the type of focus and determination that saw her rise to her career high ranking of #4. If she continues to put in the work and avoids major injuries, she should be a serious factor when the tour heads back to hard courts. As for Raducanu, it’s not all bad news. Despite the injury setback, she still heads into the second major of the season with something she had been seriously lacking, on court confidence. Finding the groove of winning back-to-back matches as she accomplished in the first part of the clay court season must account for something and will hopefully serve her well as she continues to navigate the WTA tour.
Fans may have missed out on the fullness of what these two dynamic players can bring to the court, but they’re both laying the groundwork for a seriously entertaining rivalry in the future. If both women continue to play with the unbridled passion for the sport that saw them make huge waves in New York city, tennis will be all the greater for it.