A year after finishing her A-levels Emma Raducanu has at least one win at all four Grand Slams – and none of them came harder than the one she collected at the French Open on Monday night.
Through rain, wind and shine, on a surface still withholding many of its secrets, she had to face down a fellow teenager who belied her years with the almighty smack she gave the ball.
Twice down a break in the second set Raducanu survived to make round two, courtesy of a 6-7 7-5 6-1 victory over Linda Noskova that took two hours and 40 minutes. Wimbleton and the US Open may have provided more spectacular successes, but none individually required more physical endeavour than this.
Emma Raducanu beat fellow teenager Linda Noskova to reach the French Open second round
‘It was an absolute battle,” she said afterwards. ‘As soon as I dropped my ball speed, she was all over me, and killing me at the end of the first set.‘
In some ways it looked like Raducanu was playing the version of herself from New York. Noskova, 17 and the reigning French Open junior champion, is considered the latest gem to be mined from the rich seam of Czech tennis.
While there was a huge deficit in rankings – 12 versus 184 – there was the shock of the new about her opponent, who had been sharpened up by coming through qualifying.
Raducanu talked later of how different it was facing someone who was younger: ‘I was just thinking of the experience I have gained on the tour, and that she’s new to the tour,’ she said.
Qualifier Noskova took the first set, but Raducanu battled back to avoid a major upset in Paris
‘It sort of helps when you are brand new and you’re just swinging, you’re free, and I think she definitely was doing that. Yet I knew that if I got through some really tough moments in the second set it might get to her. Physically I was really good, I was thinking I’m going to outcompete her.’
They will meet again, for sure, because Noskova crunches the ball with a rare sense of timing. She made the backhand down the line look completely simple, but fortunately threw in sufficient unforced errors along with the slew of winners that often left the Flushing Meadows champion flatfooted.
The match was hers to win, but it was Raducanu who showed the greater composure at the end of the second set, and her opponent was deflated after that.
There was no replication of the last time a prominent British woman met a Czech on this spectacular court built in the botanical gardens that neighbour Roland Garros.
British No 1 Raducanu was helpless in the first half of the tie against the impressive Noskova
That was three years ago in the semi-finals, when Jo Konta squandered a promising start against Marketa Vondrousova, fatefully missing a drive volley that would have given her the first set.
Instead of her becoming Virginia Wade’s successor as a British Grand Slam champion it turned out to be Raducanu, who now meets Aliaksandra Sasnovich, a Belarussian still permitted to play here.
The British player certainly needs to learn more about the clay – such as implementing the kind of dropshot that eventually clinched her the second set – but completing a set of victories at the Majors when so new to the tour is a quietly impressive achievement.
For Dan Evans it took until his 32nd birthday of yesterday to win for the first time at Roland Garros.
The level of tennis on show was high, but Noskova was eventually overcome by her opponent
His 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo, much more at home on the surface, was celebrated by him mimicking the swing of a golf club.
Evans later explained that he had been up on Sunday night watching the climax to the USPGA Championship later than he should have been.
‘My missus was hassling me to sleep, as they do, he said. ‘ I wanted to watch some more, but I was up early. So I basically missed one of the best endings ever – I was a bit gone this morning.’
Evans, frustrated that he is denied the chance to improve his ranking in the more suitable environment of Wimbleton, now has the chance to bolster his standing when he faces world number 96 Mikael Ymer of Sweden.
Raducanu found her balance in the third set, and said she was ‚proud‘ of her fighting spirit
There is also a winnable second round for Cam Norrie, who will take on Australian qualifier Jason Kubler.
The British No 1 had a quick turnaround from winning the ATP title in Lyon on Saturday but made light of that in dismissing French wildcard Manuel Guinard 7-5, 6-2, 6-0.
It was his fifth successive win on the clay, and was the first component of what was a decent enough day for a British contingent lacking Andy Murray.
The two others in action made little impression on the scorers. On her least favourite surface Harriet Dart went down 6-0, 6-2 to the in-form Italian Martina Trevisan, while Heather Watson was defeated 6-3, 6-3 by French wildcard Elsa Jacquemot.