Emma Raducanu arrived in Palm Desert still trying to figure out how to keep her body in one piece, merely attempting to string a few matches together, yet her run to the third round left her staring across at one of the most match-tough players in the world on Monday.
Only one WTA player, Iga Swiatek, won more matches than Beatriz Haddad Maia last year and after being eviscerated in the opening set by Raducanu, Haddad Maia showcased her mental toughness by instantly fighting back. By the middle of an exhausting final third set, it would have been reasonable to conclude that she had Raducanu exactly where she wanted.
But as the pressure rose and the rising quality required even greater shotmaking of her, Raducanu fought with everything she had and emerged from one of the toughest matches of her young career as the victor. Unseeded at Indian Wells and ranked 77th, Raducanu outfought and outhit the 13th-seed Haddad Maia 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 to reach the fourth round at the Indian Wells WTA 1000 event for the first time.
“I’m extremely happy with the way I fought and dug in [during] the third set,” she said. “I dropped my intensity a little bit in the second and against such a great opponent like Beatriz, that’s enough. It’s a 6-2 set before you know it. I was really happy with how I managed to regain my focus and intensity and come back in the third.”
After starting last week uncertain she would compete at Indian Wells, it is the site of her first true breakthrough 18 months after her US Open triumph.
Standing before Raducanu was one of the most improved players of the past year. After starting 2022 ranked outside the top 80, Haddad Maia tore through the field, reaching her ranking of 13th with 51 wins last season.
She is 6ft tall and possesses a vicious lefty serve, but having honed her game on the clay courts of Brazil, she navigates the sport with a grinder’s mindset, her groundstrokes loaded with heavy topspin and pace, but with high margin. Early on, Raducanu was charged with setting the pace and she did not hesitate to impose herself from inside the baseline.
In her opening service game, Raducanu immediately broke Haddad Maia’s serve with ultra aggression on return, intimidating her into two double faults. Throughout the first set, Raducanu continually rushed the Brazilian by taking the ball early, constantly looking to dominate with her forehand.
Even after being so thoroughly dismantled in the opening set, Haddad Maia adjusted. In the second set, she shut Raducanu out of her service games by mixing up her patterns on serve, looked to finish points off at the net and threw in drop shots to keep Raducanu guessing. After breaking in her opening return game, Haddad Maia rolled through the second set.
The momentum was firmly in Haddad Maia as the third set began, the Brazilian holding with far greater ease, but Raducanu toiled through two excellent holds. By the middle of the third set, the quality reached stratospheric heights, the players trading blows in lengthy, high-octane exchanges. Raducanu’s creative, bold shotmaking proved the difference. When it mattered most, she wrestled her way back inside the baseline, controlled her own destiny and finished off a spectacular win.
It was significant for so many reasons. Raducanu’s great runs at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2021 were achieved without contesting a three-set match. This marked her first three-set win over a top-50 opponent, her hardest-fought win against a top player offering resistance until the very end.
Raducanu spent much of last year struggling to figure out the game style that most suited her abilities. This week, she has played with clarity, particularly laying into her forehand, normally her more inconsistent wing, and seeking to control the baseline with it whenever possible.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Raducanu said. “I haven’t really prepared for this tournament, I haven’t really practiced. To come out here and play at this level and be competitive is a great sign for me.
“I did put two great weeks back home in London. To see those coming through and showing on the match court at crucial points sometimes is really exciting.”
By reaching the fourth round, Raducanu has offered herself a new opportunity against the very best. On Tuesday night, she will face Swiatek, the world No 1.