Emma Raducanu’s Wimbledon run ends in three-set defeat by qualifier Lulu Sun

“Qualifiers are dangerous,” said Emma Raducanu before this match. Well, this one proved deadly. As Lulu Sun, making her Wimbledon debut, became the first woman in 14 years to come through qualifying and reach the quarter-final, she knocked Britain’s last contender out of the tournament in the process.

It would be hard for Raducanu to begrudge the New Zealander’s 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 victory, having made her own celebrated run to the US Open title in 2021 from a similarly humble position. It would also be hard to deny that Sun, the world 123, was, on the day, by far the better player.

After the roustabout air of her previous three matches, Raducanu got the “really tough match” she had predicted here: hard grind, a constant battle to hold serve. Throughout this tournament Raducanu has been on the front foot against opponents, but here it was Sun who was chasing her up the court, and the Briton’s defence was not always up to the task. Sun took points at the net 28 times to Raducanu’s seven, and she won 21 of them.

Like the gods of old, Sun has an implacable and powerful arm. Every time Raducanu attempted a lob, the 23-year-old smote it back with a drive volley. It must have felt like Zeus was out there hurling thunderbolts. And they came with a deadly accuracy, too – the sequence of chalk puffs at Raducanu’s end were a visible demonstration of how brilliantly Sun was judging the baseline.

Raducanu was continually coming from behind. She gave away breaks in the first games of both the first and third sets. She gave away the first point of her service games seven times in the first two sets. There was some reward for her endurance, when she took the second set entirely against the run of play. And there was honour in the way she kept fighting to the end, including saving a match point at 5-2 with a daring crosscourt backhand.

A fourth-round exit replicates her best finish here from two years ago, and there was even a worrying call-back to that match when the physio was once again called on for Raducanu on Centre Court. In 2021, against the Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, it was breathing problems that forced the then 18-year-old to retire. Here, the fears were for her ankle, which she jarred in a slide to retrieve a forehand at the start of the third set, but a visit from the physio allowed her to complete the match freely.

It had seemed a perfect opportunity for Raducanu to make her furthest progress in a grand slam since that US Open title. For most of this week, she began the underdog: here she was the favourite. Her opponent was playing in only her second ever slam, having lost in the first round of this year’s Australian Open to Italy’s Elisabetta Cocciaretto. Sun’s wins at Wimbledon represented her only tour experience on grass.

View image in fullscreen Emma Raducanu jarred her ankle sliding while trying to retrieve a forehand in the third set. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Her mere presence had already made history. Having grown up in Switzerland and changed her playing nationality at the start of the year, she was the first woman from New Zealand to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon, and only the third woman from the country to get so far in a grand slam.

As for Raducanu, the buildup to her biggest fixture since her comeback from surgery was obscured with needless noise about her withdrawal from the mixed doubles, and the loss of the last leg of Andy Murray’s Wimbledon farewell tour. But she took reasonable caution for a 21-year-old who spent a year working her way back from double-wrist surgery.

Just as important as Raducanu’s physical comeback has been the emotional one. After her long injury break, her delight in being back at Wimbledon was palpable in her previous match against Maria Sakkari. Here she brought fizzing excitement to the coin toss, where she stood at the net bouncing like Tigger. She gave a broad grin as the crowd cheered her name before her first serve.

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Instead it was Sun who had the perfect start, taking the first three points off Raducanu’s serve and securing the break at the third attempt. From the outset, Sun looked ready to match the Briton in aggression, putting plenty of pace on the ball and leaving Raducanu struggling to counter the left-hander’s angles. She broke Raducanu’s next service game to love.

A brilliant backhand return at 30-30 in the fourth brought Raducanu her only break point of the first set, and the return of her trademark yell showed she knew it was time to fight. But Sun served her way to the first set with the first two aces of the match and put Raducanu under immediate pressure in the second, before squandering a gift of a break point when she missed a volley into open court.

It was not the only sitter Sun missed here. She might have taken the match in two sets if she had not muffed two follow-up volleys in the final game of the second set, and there were more nervy errors as she approached the climax .

Still, knocking out a Briton in front of a Centre Court crowd to make the final eight? Not bad for your first Wimbledon.

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