Raducanu pain free and serene as she enjoys winning Grand Slam return

The 2021 US Open champion began her Australian Open campaign with a straight set win

By Reuters

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Britain's Emma Raducanu serves during her first round match against Shelby Rogers of the US. — Reuters
Britain's Emma Raducanu serves during her first round match against Shelby Rogers of the US. — Reuters

Published: Tue 16 Jan 2024, 8:25 PM

Emma Raducanu spoke of finally being pain free as she began her Australian Open campaign with an impressive 6-3 6-2 defeat of American Shelby Rogers on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old Briton won the 2021 US Open in stunning fashion as a qualifier but struggled for form in 2022 and suffered an injury-ravaged 2023 in which she was sidelined since April.

A year ago in Melbourne she managed to win a round just weeks after surgery to have a cyst removed from her knee and later in the year needed a wrist operation.

But the way she moved around the court and struck the ball against Rogers, augurs well for a rapid climb back up the rankings from her current 296.

"(Last year) I travelled here on a wheelchair," she told reporters. "I only started hitting three days before the match. That whole process was a lot of stress. We weren't sure if I was going to be able to play here.

"I think this year and now there's just a lot more calm. It's amazing to be pain-free with the wrists. I honestly didn't know if I'd ever get to this stage.

"I had pain for so long. I was playing since before the US swing in 2022 all the way before surgery. It was difficult because I wasn't able to train, I wasn't able to practice."

Raducanu, who scraped in to the main draw because of her protected ranking and some withdrawals of other players, was caught in a whirlwind of publicity after her remarkable run to the title at Flushing Meadows in 2021.

At times the expectation on her shoulders seemed to weigh heavily, but she looked serene on Tuesday as she delighted a supportive crowd with a classy display to set up a second round against China's Wang Yafan.

She said working with coach Nick Cavaday has been a calming factor after chopping and changing her team at regular intervals since her Grand Slam breakthrough.

"Just think setting things up how I really like. Just people around me, I think it's pretty calm now," she said. "It's nice to be with Nick. I've known him since I was a kid, feel very comfortable there.

"Just all aspects really of my life I feel like are calming down and settled. Obviously when you come back after eight months, have experienced three surgeries, you're just really grateful to be able to move freely."

Meanwhile, Olympic champion Alexander Zverev won his opening match on Tuesday, a day after being ordered to stand trial later this year in an assault case in Germany.

The sixth-seeded Zverev dropped the first set before rallying to beat fellow German Dominik Koepfer 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-3 in a night match on Melbourne's Margaret Court Arena.

The 26-year-old Zverev is accused of assaulting a woman during an argument in Berlin in May 2020. He has denied the accusation.

Iga Swiatek came through an opening test of fire in her hunt for a first Australian Open title on Tuesday before Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz wrapped up the third day's play with an entertaining victory over French veteran Richard Gasquet.

Poland's world number one Swiatek had been handed a stern opening draw in hot and blustery conditions that made things difficult for players across the grounds, including Britain's Jack Draper who was physically sick after beating Marcos Giron.

But the Polish four-time Grand Slam champion responded in style and twice fought back from a break down to win 7-6(2) 6-2.

Alcaraz was spared the worst of the heat as he made his return to the tournament after missing it last year.

Concluding a balmy night session on Rod Laver Arena against a man who won his first ATP tour match a year before he was even born, the 20-year-old Alcaraz won 7-6(5) 6-1 6-2.

In another eye-catching women's first-round duel, third seed Elena Rybakina made a slow start but shifted into top gear when it mattered to down Czech former world number one Karolina Pliskova 7-6(6) 6-4 in a battle of the big servers.

Double Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka was made to work hard by Italian Camila Giorgi before the 18th seed from Belarus prevailed 6-1 4-6 6-3.

At least one player was enjoying the hot weather, Norwegian 11th seed Casper Ruud basking in the sunshine during a routine 6-1 6-3 6-1 win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Holger Rune needed four sets and more than three hours to get the job done against Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka as the Danish eighth seed wrapped up a 6-2 4-6 7-6(3) 6-4 victory.

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