British tennis enthusiast Emma Raducanu has no expectations from her Australian Open campaign, she says, but is “just happy to be here and to be able to swing”.
Since winning the US Open in September, Raducanu’s career has taken a stuttered and collided, not only thanks to her inexperience, but also a major accident – most recently the Covid attack that cost three valuable weeks of her off-season.
It feels like the tennis gods are Making Raducanu pay for the moments of happiness she enjoyed September in New York, where her highest-ranking opponent was Belinda Bencic of the world rankings. But she remains a cheerful presence even when the odds are stacked against her.
“Twelve months ago, I was just studying in my room for my exams,” she told reporters. “I was watching [the Australian Open] from afar. I’m just really grateful to get this chance to play here. Hopefully we’ll go out and see the fans.
“Because of the last few months I’ve had,” Raducanu added, “I may not have played as much as I would have liked or trained as much. I feel like there’s really no pressure being put on me. I feel like i’m just happy to be here and have a swing i had to go through some hurdles to play here so i just want to go out and have fun and enjoy [myself] on the road.”
Raducanu tested positive for Covid in Abu Dhabi, where she had traveled before Christmas to play in the Mubadala exhibition event. When she finally returned to the match field in Sydney on Tuesday, her lack of preparation was… brutally exposed in a 6-0, 6-1 beating in the hands of Elena Rybakina.
The result looks alarming on paper, but then Raducanu had arrived with just six or seven hours of play time behind him this season. When asked if Covid has left her with a stamina deficit, she replied: “I don’t know as I have not been physically tested. [against Rybakina]. The points were over so quickly.
“It’s a challenge to find the balance between wanting to get out there and exercising right after you come out of your isolation,” she added. “But if you do it after 20 days of doing nothing, you always start to pick up little niggles.
“The first week I was not able to practice that much. But after Sydney, the game, it was just good to see where I was. After that I started to tighten up some things on the practice track. I think I’ll get there gradually.”
To increase the difficulty of this Australian Open, Raducanu has recruited Sloane Stephens – the super slick American player – as her opening opponent. Usually theirs is the only first round match in both draws to pit two former grand slam champions against each other.