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U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu is trying to recapture her magic

Emma Raducanu won her first-round Citi Open match against Louisa Chirico. (Maansi Srivastava/The Washington Post)

It’s closing on midnight, nearly an hour and a half after her opening-round match ended, when Emma Raducanu arrives for her post-match interview at Washington’s Citi Open.

The delay, she explains, was because she needed to see the athletic trainer, have two blisters popped and take a shower “to look nice for you guys!”

So much is expected of the U.S. Open’s reigning champion who, at 19, is the world’s 10th-ranked tennis player and top ranked in Britain, where heroine-hungry media chronicle her every move.

Raducanu is also a global ambassador for Tiffany & Co., which accounts for the brilliant diamond jewelry she wears to the news conference; Dior; and Porsche, among other high-end companies. Needless to say, it wouldn’t do if the public face of these luxe brands showed up for interviews drenched in sweat, hair matted to her head.

But Raducanu is also a whip-smart bookworm who just over a year ago graduated from a British boarding school and was sitting for her A level exams in English and math. She is a teen, in many respects, like other teens, albeit with intense inner drive.

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That reminder comes shortly after she uses the word “wizard” in describing her performance, as in, “I didn’t necessarily play like a wizard today, but I got through it and I fought, and that’s all that matters.”

That led to a follow-up question about Harry Potter. Specifically, what Hogwarts House would she be in?

Raducanu lights up, as if suddenly plugged into a socket of delight.

“I’d be in Slytherin, for sure!” she exulted, only too happy to elaborate. “They haven’t got a great rep, but I just think they are really, hmm, cool … They’re pretty, in a way, brutal … They have got a just mysterious sort of side to them, and I like that.”

Though fleeting, it appeared a welcome line of questioning amid what has been a tough slog in her first full season on the pro tour.

Raducanu’s 6-4, 6-2 victory Tuesday over qualifier Louisa Chirico was her first singles match since June 29, when she lost in the second round at Wimbledon. It was also just the ninth match she has won all season, bringing her 2022 record to 10-12 after injuries and yet another coaching change.

At the Citi Open, where she is competing for the first time, Raducanu is working on a trial basis with former pro Dmitry Tursunov, who reached No. 20 in the world in 2006 and has found post-retirement success as a coach, helping Aryna Sabalenka and Anett Kontaveit to top-10 rankings.

Tursunov, 39, who left his native Russia to train in America at age 12, succeeds Torben Beltz, with whom Raducanu split in April after a five-month collaboration. Beltz, who had previously coached fellow German Angelique Kerber to the 2016 Australian and U.S. Open titles, had been brought in to replace Raducanu’s youth coach, Andrew Richardson, who led her to the unprecedented achievement of winning the U.S. Open as a qualifier, without conceding a set.

While the alliance with Tursunov is, for now, an experiment, Raducanu said she feels he already has helped after two weeks of training in advance of the Citi Open, which marks the start of the North American hard court swing that leads to the U.S. Open.

“He’s definitely trying to make me take things easier on myself,” Raducanu said. “I put a lot of emphasis on everything I do, and I want to do it to the best of my abilities all the time. He’s just slowly trying to shift me towards, ‘If it’s not perfect, it’s okay.’ Like, ‘If you shank one, it’s okay.’ Just these sorts of things and being more accepting of that.”

For a straight-A student, being less than perfect can be among life’s more difficult lessons.

That is the lesson the pro tour is teaching Raducanu just now.

“I’ve learnt that I’m pretty resilient,” Raducanu said, reflecting on her results this season. “I’ve pretty much been knocked down every single week — literally in front of everyone. Get back up every single time.

In the 11 WTA tournaments she has entered this year, she has advanced past the second round just twice — on the clay in Stuttgart, Germany, where she fell in the quarterfinals to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, and in Madrid, where she fell in the third round. The three majors since her U.S. Open triumph — this year’s Australian, French and Wimbledon — all ended with second-round defeats.

In the experience of Pam Shriver and Rennae Stubbs, who won 22 and six Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles titles, respectively, the trials Raducanu is undergoing are understandable and no cause for alarm.

“If we could lift that magical three weeks out of résumé and look at the rest of her progression, it would actually be quite normal,” Shriver said in a phone interview. “She is a top prospect who had a magical run. That’s not to say she’s going to be one Slam and done. It’s more that she is now back on somewhat of a normal trajectory. And I think after this U.S. Open, it will be even more normal.”

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Shriver, 60, forged her Hall of Fame career in doubles. But at 16, she reached the final of the U.S. Open and became an overnight sensation.

“Of course I lost to Chrissie [Evert],” Shriver said. “But it was a very high-profile situation. Then I went the next 12 months hardly winning a match. After a year, I started to reset and rebuild and get myself in the top 10 for the next eight years. But based on the year following that 1978 U.S. Open, it was terrible.”

Stubbs noted that no one in tennis expects “week-to-week moments of greatness” from 19-year-old pros, however gifted.

“The bottom line is that she is learning every single week about the tour and how she stacks up against players of similar caliber,” Stubbs said. “Obviously winning the U.S. Open last year was an incredible moment. It was a fairy-tale story we couldn’t have predicted.

“… This is all now a learning experience — not only dealing with the week-in, week-out pressure of professional tennis but doing it with the glare of the world spotlight on her. It’s hard enough to do it without being famous. And now she is famous.”

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