By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 18 (Yonhap) -- Since bursting onto the tennis scene with her maiden Grand Slam title at the 2021 U.S. Open, Emma Raducanu has fallen on some hard times, unable to pick up another win and taking a nosedive in the world rankings.
The 19-year-old will look to use this week's WTA stop in Seoul, the Hana Bank Korea Open, as the launching pad for a new chapter in her career.
"A part of me was definitely looking forward to having a fresh start, and I am viewing (the Korean tournament) as setting up the next year as best as I can," Raducanu said Sunday at her pretournament press conference at Olympic Park Tennis Center. The tournament starts Monday.
"I'm definitely really, really hungry to get back up at that level consistently, because I know I have it in me," Raducanu added.
Raducanu, born in Toronto but raised in England, stunned the tennis world last year by winning the U.S. Open without dropping a set. But having failed to add a title to her resume over the past 12 months, Raducanu has plummeted 72 spots in the latest world rankings to No. 83. She will be the sixth seed at the Korea Open.
"I would obviously love to win a title, and to be honest, I think that it doesn't matter at what level. I think now just playing a lot of matches is something that I could really benefit from," she said. "I know that I was meant to go through the development year at some stage, and I completely skipped it last year, so I know that I need to do the hard yards now. And it's sort of payback for winning the U.S. Open with very little practice or work."
Raducanu said she has been putting in a lot of work since her first-round elimination at this year's U.S. Open, "more hours than I've ever really trained before."
"And that might leave me tired occasionally. In some matches, I might feel it more than others," she said. "But I'm just going to commit to this to get fitter and stronger, and next year I'm going to have a lot more tolerance to high intensities."
When she is not spending time on the court or in the gym, Raducanu likes to wind down and watch some K-drama. She said the draw of South Korean pop culture was part of the reason why she committed to the Korea Open.
"Obviously, everyone knows how good the skincare is here, and (I just want to) find out some of those secrets maybe," Raducanu said with a smile. "To be honest, Korean food and cuisine is my favorite. I've always said that. So I'm really looking forward to getting out and trying some of that."
Raducanu is also a fan of the Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur and their South Korean star, Son Heung-min. She wasn't into the sport at first, but being surrounded by Spurs fans on a daily basis got her hooked. Raducanu, whose mother is Chinese, said she feels "a bit of an Asian connection" with Son in particular.
"I really resonate with him, and I think that what he's doing for sport and football in Asia and in Korea especially is massive," said Raducanu, who arrived in Seoul on Saturday afternoon and missed Son's hat trick that happened in the wee hours of Sunday morning here. "I think that there are going to be a lot more future athletes coming from this side of the world."
Seoul last hosted the WTA tournament in 2019. The 2020 edition was canceled due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the tournament was downgraded to a second-tier, WTA 125 event.
Raducanu is one of two former Grand Slam singles champions here, along with the 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko
The 15th-ranked Latvian, who won her Korea Open debut in 2017, will be the top seed here.
"It's always great to come here in Korea. I will try to enjoy it as much as I can and not put any expectations on myself, because that way it's a bit easier for me," said Ostapenko, who has a WTA title this year. "I feel like my game is getting better and better, and I think it's just a matter of the time, but I think I can play better."