The US Open champion was beaten 6-4 4-6 6-3 by Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in a bizarre match that saw her reduced to hitting slice forehands because of a painful blister on her right hand.
Raducanu took a medical time-out for treatment after only five games and was hampered throughout but somehow won the second set before going down in three.
“It was a difficult match,” said the 19-year-old. “I was struggling with my hand before the match. There were some people in my team that maybe didn’t want me to play but I wanted to go out there and fight through it, see how far I could get.
“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.”
Raducanu was forced off court for three weeks last month after contracting Covid-19, and she said: “I have been struggling with blisters since I started playing really in Australia because 21 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 and I have been trying to tape it for every practice, and it would harden and dry out, but then once I would play again, another layer would just keep ripping off.
“It ended up being pretty deep. It’s a bit annoying because I know it’s something that will heal in a few days, but it’s just unfortunate timing.”
Asked if she had considered pulling out during the match, as she did in her only previous grand slam defeat with breathing problems in the fourth round of Wimbledon, Raducanu added: “When I was slicing forehands and really struggling, I was, like, ‘Do I?’
“I fought so hard just to come out to Australia and play here, and I didn’t want to go out like that. So I just left it all out on the court.”
Eurosport announced that Raducanu’s first-round win over Sloane Stephens on Tuesday generated the channel’s biggest audience in the UK for five years, and victory was clearly a big relief for the teenager after a tricky few months trying to adjust to her new status.
To get that second set with basically one shot, I can't believe it really.
This was another new situation for Raducanu, who was the big favourite for a grand slam match for the first time against the world number 98, but she looked calm initially, rattling through the first three games.
It soon became clear all was not well, though, and Kovinic won five games in a row either side of a lengthy medical time-out for Raducanu.
By the start of the second set, the 19-year-old was hitting almost exclusively slice forehands – a rarely-used shot in the professional game – but it unsettled Kovinic.
Despite her inexperience, competitive nous is clearly one of Raducanu’s big strengths and she managed to take the second set, smiling and laughing at the absurdity of it all.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2022
A sharp wince while she received more treatment ahead of the third set showed just what Raducanu was dealing with and, although she managed to hit through her forehand a little more in the deciding set, it was not enough.
She said of her necessary innovation: “That was definitely one thing I learned, that a nice slice forehand is not so bad and I have some sort of hand skills. That was a positive surprise. To get that second set with basically one shot, I can’t believe it really.”
The defeat means Raducanu misses out on a first clash with childhood hero Simona Halep for the third time in recent months – although this time, it is probably for the best.
“I don’t think you’re getting very far against Simona with a slice forehand,” said Raducanu with a wry smile.