Emma Raducanu can learn from Coco Gauff’s ‘maturity’ after signs of promise in defeat

Emma Raducanu started to digest the brutal reality of another premature grand slam exit during that lonely walk to the net after succumbing to the supreme Coco Gauff.

Her second-round Australian Open defeat ensures a fifth successive grand slam departure at this stage or sooner since her stunning US Open triumph as an 18-year-old. And yet, when the Briton analyses this absorbing first-ever meeting between two of the game’s rising stars, there will be hope and genuine encouragement to build on.

Even beyond her game, a week ago there was not only doubt, but serious trepidation surrounding her involvement at Melbourne Park. The tears had flown in Auckland and energy had undoubtedly frittered away in the final hours before her first-round victory over Tamara Korpatsch.

But having erased lingering doubts surrounding the reliability of her left ankle, Raducanu, in defeat, grasped her chance to validate a game not yet tested enough against the elite.

While fleeting, this has been a courageous journey in Melbourne, as parts of her game sparkle and others infuriate. Her character on the court could become a pillar of her quest to at least return to a grand slam final stage in the coming years.

Both players endured a sluggish start, yet it was Gauff who rallied faster and held off Raducanu, scratching and clawing to force a decider, clinching a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win after a cagey tie-breaker.

But Raducanu outgunned Gauff across an hour and 40 minutes, landing 17 winners to the American’s 13, with her wand of a backhand especially impressive.

Gauff so often forces you into that final shot, surviving on the periphery of the court, yet routinely extending the point. And it ensured doubts started to creep in amid Gauff’s mesmeric spell at each swing of momentum.

Emma Raducanu and Coco Gauff embrace (REUTERS)
Emma Raducanu and Coco Gauff embrace (REUTERS)

Yet Raducanu remained resolute and with a faster start might just have prevailed here. There was the fourth game in the first set to immediately break back and a similar charge evened the contest at four games apiece in the second.

A gritty eight-minute game at 5-4 with Raducanu squandering two set points ought to have broken her, yet there was a laser-like focus shortly after Gauff’s resilience had radiated around Rod Laver Arena.

Immense precision on serve delivered a game to love, especially satisfying under the circumstances. Raducanu must savour how her game mirrored Gauff’s for long spells, while sharpening that ruthless streak, as the American survived too often, resisting twice as many break points with eight in total.

Despite 16 months Gauff’s junior, there is surely an exciting future in the months ahead if Raducanu can resist injury, which has seen her play 50 matches less as a professional and only half as many grand slam events. In fact, Gauff underlined experience as a pivotal factor to the outcome.

"I stayed calm when I needed to and made the serve when I needed to,” Gauff said. “Held when I needed to. I think that definitely comes with maturity. "I feel like in the past, I would have freaked out in that moment."

Emma Raducanu reacts during her defeat by Coco Gauff (Getty)
Emma Raducanu reacts during her defeat by Coco Gauff (Getty)

While Raducanu felt the need to “squeeze it closer to the line” due to Gauff’s looming presence, which “kind of teases errors out of you that way,” underlining that psychological edge that will only grow with each encounter like this.

Consistency and composure evaded Raducanu here, but it is no coincidence this was such a steely display, having consumed Andy Murray’s remarkable five-set triumph over Matteo Berrettini a day earlier.

“I watched four sets of it. It was incredible,” Raducanu said, having paused practice to witness the Scot’s latest gutsy effort.

“He is such a role model for everyone in British tennis, but also I think on the tour, what he is doing and achieving.”

This defeat stings a little, but Raducanu can emerge from this trip down under galvanised and eager to establish herself once more at the top.