MELBOURNE, Australia — Emma Raducanu wasted no time in announcing her appearance at her first Grand Slam match since her stunning run to the US Open title last year.
After hitting a forehand winner down the line past Sloane Stephens – the 2017 US Open champion – Raducanu shouted a loud “Come on”, punctuating the match’s first point.
From there Raducanu was off and running, sprinting through the first set in 17 minutes with the loss of just four points. Although Stephens found his footing in the second set and was able to extend the rally with his foot speed and counter kicks, Raducanu regained control in the final frame to close the game 6-0, 2-6, 6 -1 Tuesday night at Margaret. Court arena.
When a backhand half-volley from Stephens hit the net to end the match, Raducanu dropped his racquet and covered his face with his hands, a reaction rarely seen from a top player after a victory in the first round. Again, rarely has a player reached the top after jumping so many rungs on the ladder. Seeded 17th, this is Raducanu’s first appearance in women’s Australian Open competition, and only her third Grand Slam event overall. At last year’s Australian Open, Raducanu was seeded 348th, opting to stay home and study for high school exams rather than travel to Australia.
Tuesday’s match, only the second night game of Raducanu’s career, was also the first time she played a third set at a Grand Slam: her US Open title run last year, which started in qualifying, involved winning 20 straight sets on her. 10 games.
“I think 2022 is about learning for me,” Raducanu said. “Being in those situations – winning a set and then having to fight in a decider – definitely builds up in a bank of experience that I can tap into later down the line. Yeah, very happy that today I can add something to that.
Despite being a Grand Slam champion herself, Raducanu had never faced one before Stephens.
“When Sloane fought back in the second set, I definitely accepted that,” Raducanu said. “I almost expected that, because she’s a champion and you don’t become one just by turning around.”
Raducanu will play her second-round match on Thursday against Montenegrin Danka Kovinic, another stepping stone for a player who has already achieved stardom in her home country. Raducanu’s victory at the US Open propelled her to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, and she was named MBE – Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – on the Queen’s New Year Honors list. Shortly after his triumph in New York, a message of congratulations to Raducanu appeared on Royal Mail stamped envelopes across Britain for four days.
Stephens, 28, admitted that although she and Raducanu won at Flushing Meadows, their titles had little in common. “We won the US Open, but our situations are very different,” Stephens said. “I think she’s carrying a whole country, and it’s quite different from winning the US Open.”
Despite her early success, Raducanu was criticized by members of the British media, who suggested she hadn’t focused enough on her tennis after her results plummeted following a flurry of endorsements. In Nike’s first video ad featuring the 19-year-old, the company dramatized these criticisms, showing Raducanu performing as phrases like “fluke” and “one-hit wonder” flashed behind her in all caps.
For those who had wanted to make uncharitable assessments, there had been cause for concern: Raducanu had lost four of the six matches she had played since winning the US Open, including a brutal 6-0 defeat. , 6-1 against Elena Rybakina last time out. week in Sydney.
Raducanu, whose pre-match training in Sydney had been limited by a recent case of coronavirus, said she was “very happy to have turned things around so quickly” after the brutal defeat.
“Last week I did a good job,” she said. “Sydney for me, was not a deal breaker. I always felt positive; I just knew where I was at that point.
Stephens, who noted the “massive scream” given by Raducanu after the game’s first point, said she could sense Raducanu’s willingness to silence the doubters.
“I think the hardest part is trying to prove that you’re good enough to be where you are or good enough to stay where you are,” Stephens said. “The more you try to do that, I think, the more emotion comes out and the more things are probably out of character than you normally would, because you’re trying so hard to show and prove that you’re that person, or this ranking.
Raducanu said she also had to learn to deal with self-criticism.
“The biggest challenge is to be patient,” Raducanu said in his pre-tournament press conference. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Whether in training or off the pitch, I want to be the best I can be all the time. sometimes it’s just not very viable.
She added: “I just need to relax. As long as the trend is up, just a matter of small fluctuations, I think I can be proud. Whatever the challenge, I kind of feel ready to face it now.
As Raducanu’s career continues to rise, Stephens said his accomplishments have come in a “very retrograde” streak.
“It’s hard to deal with,” Stephens said of Raducanu’s uncharted trajectory. “But I think if you have the right people in your corner to guide you, they will know when to take breaks. They’ll know when to push her harder and they’ll know when she’s ready.
Stephens expected to take a break during this tournament. She married her longtime boyfriend, soccer player Jozy Altidore, on New Year’s Day and said she planned the wedding for January because she had ‘completely planned to skip’ the Australian part of this season. She said she didn’t want to risk having to self-quarantine and having to retread the pain she felt here a year ago: while enduring the mandatory hotel quarantine before the At last year’s Australian Open, Stephens attended his grandparents’ funeral via Zoom.
“Last year, I had a very traumatic experience in quarantine, and I just wanted to get out of it completely,” Stephens said Tuesday. “Whatever happens, even if it was like two days, I didn’t want to do it.”
Stephens, who said she underwent full off-season training, said loved ones were caught off guard when she decided to make the unexpected trip Down Under.
“I think everyone was a little surprised,” she said. “But, yeah, I was just like, ‘I’m ready.'”
Her opponent, Raducanu, proved she was even more ready.