US Open champion Emma Raducanu was knocked out of the Australian Open after she lost to Danka Kovinic in the second round, here on Thursday.
It was a painful defeat for Britain's Raducanu, who suffered from blisters on her racquet hand throughout, making for a gripping and unusual contest packed with twists, turns and tactical adjustments and eventually fell to a 6-4 4-6 6-3 defeat on Margaret Court Arena.
This is the first time that the 19-year-old has lost a completed match at a Grand Slam, with her only previous defeat coming when she pulled out with breathing difficulties against Ajla Tomljanovic in the fourth round of Wimbledon.
On the other hand, Kovinic became the first player from Montenegro to make it to the third round of a Grand Slam. She will now face Simona Halep, who dropped just two games against Beatriz Haddad Maia.
Raducanu leapt to a quick 3-0 double-break lead thanks to an error-strewn start from Kovinic, but it was evident that the Briton's blisters were bothering her as early as the second changeover, when she took a medical time-out to get her racquet hand taped.
Kovinic soon settled, too, and displayed both sweet touch on the dropshot and hefty power on the backhand to win five of the last six games of the set.
Raducanu was ailing, but her response in the second set made for an extraordinary passage of play as she demonstrated her tenacity as a competitor. Even when the play became predictable, her scrambling ability meant that she was able to hang tough in defensive rallies.
Short slices and dropshots pulled Kovinic into the forecourt, where the former World No 46 was at her weakest, losing 20 of her 35 net points in total as Raducanu picked her off with repeated passes. And when it came to all-court improvisation, the teenager had the control and vision to keep a step ahead of her opponent.
As the set drew on, Kovinic eventually adjusted, attacking with greater patience and purpose to level at 4-4 from 3-1 down. But Raducanu immediately responded by bringing back her drive forehand, catching Kovinic unaware and breaking for 5-4 with consecutive winners off that wing.
The deciding set was a test of Kovinic's fortitude, with a career-best Grand Slam showing on the line. Raducanu's tactics were unpredictable, but Kovinic possessed the greater weight of shot. She used it to superb effect to stave off four break points across her first two service games of the deciding set, coming up with some crucial overhead putaways to seize momentum.
Raducanu's backhand had been rock-solid for the majority of the match, but it was the stroke that fell away in the third set: eight of her 11 unforced errors in the decider came off that wing. Kovinic was able to find some of her best tennis to take advantage, breaking for 4-2 with a pinpoint lob and sealing her second match point with a glorious backhand winner down the line.
"I have been struggling with blisters since I started playing in Australia.Twenty-one days, no tennis, my hands got pretty soft. From day one, day two, I was getting blisters pop up here and there. This particular one has been with me for about five days," said Raducanu, whose pre-season was hampered by testing positive for Covid-19.
"But I thought it was a pretty good learning experience for me. I discovered tools about myself and my game that I didn't know I had before, so I can take some positives even from this match," she added.
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