A few days after successfully navigating tension, frustration and inexperience to secure her first ever WTA win, Emma Raducanu returned to the BT Arena far more relaxed and at ease. It was reflected in a far less stressful day on the court as she served extremely well and imposed her more potent weapons on a tough but inferior opponent, defeating Ana Bogdan of Romania 6-3, 6-4 to move into the quarter-final of the Transylvania Open in Cluj-Napoca.
The victory marked Raducanu’s 25th win of the year in all competitions, with just seven losses, and she has now reached her second tour level quarter-final. She will next face fellow teenager – and rival from junior days – Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, who coolly moved past Germany’s Mona Barthel 6-4, 6-4.
After her victory, a five minute on-court interview followed in which Raducanu revealed that, rather than keeping it in her front room at home, the replica trophy she will eventually receive for her US Open victory will be shipped to the LTA’s National Tennis Centre where it will be on display. “If you want to see it, it’s at the NTC,” she said. “I just think the LTA have done so much for me, and I wanted them to have it as a sign and a big thank you for everything they have done, helping me through the young ages. They took control in my development. So, it’s a little gift.”
Thursday’s obstacle came in the form of the world No 106 Bogdan, a quick, durable athlete with a sweet backhand. They battled in front of just over 100 tournament staff and sponsors who politely cheered for both players, a consideration they would not have afforded for many other foreign-born players.
“On the run she was coming out with shots that were landing on the baseline at times,” said Raducanu. “I was sort of like ‘How is she getting the ball back again?’ But I think I managed to stay patient and keep going and in the end I thought I served it out pretty well. And in general, I think my serve helped me quite a lot in this match.”
After a tough opening service game, Raducanu’s consistent, deep returning yielded a 3-0 lead. Raducanu was not faultless throughout the set; she struggled at times with her timing on her forehand and Bogdan’s defence eked out ample errors. However, she played the match on her terms, dictating from inside the baseline, and she served well in most tight moments. After maintaining the opening break throughout the set, Raducanu served the set out to love.
Raducanu gained an early break and a 2-0 lead in the second set before losing three games in a row, but she remained composed throughout. The decisive game of the match followed at 3-3, the intensity skyrocketing as Raducanu controlled the exchanges and Bogdan counterpunched efficiently. In the end, it was the Briton who stood firmly inside the baseline, crunching a series of crosscourt backhands to break. She lost one point in her final two service games, completing an excellent serving day with 83% first serve points won and 72% first serves in.
A fascinating match awaits Raducanu in her first quarter-final at a WTA tour event as she faces a talented contemporary in Kostyuk. The 19-year-old Ukrainian, also born in 2002 but five months earlier in June, was the first of their generation to break through when she reached the third round of the 2018 Australian Open from qualifying at the age of 15.
Many years ago, the pair competed in the same Tennis Europe events as children. While Kostyuk remembers facing a Great Britain team that included Raducanu in under-12s, Raducanu simply remembers that Kostyuk “absolutely destroyed me in the juniors every single time”. In their most high-profile match, Kostyuk and her partner, Kamilla Bartone, defeated Raducanu and Holly Fisher 6-2, 6-1 in 51 minutes in the Les Petits As under-14s final.
When Kostyuk was competing in the 2018 Australian Open, Raducanu was not even ranked highly enough to compete in the junior event. Kostyuk is progressing well enough herself and she is close to breaking into the top 50 but that they should first meet as professionals with Raducanu the grand slam champion is a reflection of how every player has their different path towards the top of the sport.
“She was playing full-time and practising, on the road, from a very young age,” said Raducanu. “She’s developed a lot of skills doing that. I kind of came from behind and caught up this year. But I think she’s a great mover and great athlete. The match up is going to be pretty different because we’ve both come a long way since that young age. I’m looking forward to going out there.”