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What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, on the back courts of Melbourne Park, Emma Raducanu was literally training on one leg.

An ankle injury obtained at the Auckland lead-up event, put the 2023 Australian Open in severe doubt.

A week or so before round one, Raducanu was hopping around the court. Then walking, then jogging, and finally running around the court. She would get to the starting line, and win her opening match against Linda Fruhvirtova, before succumbing to Coco Gauff in the second round, in what was probably a closer contest than anyone expected, had they seen Emma’s training footage prior to the tournament.

Unfortunately for Raducanu, the year didn’t get better from there. Tonsillitis forced her to withdraw from the ATX Open in Austin, but she did manage to make the fourth round of Indian Wells. From there, wrist injuries plagued her season, and was only able to step onto the court for two more matches.

Surgeries on both wrists, and an ankle, had tennis fans and experts questioning whether she’d even make it back on to the court at all. And if she did, what would the future look like? Would we liken Raducanu to Juan Martin del Potro? A Grand Slam champion, whose career was beset with wrist problems, and her potential sadly never achieved.

Time will tell. But for now, it appears Emma is back, and enjoying being on court again. Back in Auckland this year, a hard fought win against Elena-Gabriella Ruse, and a gutsy loss against Elina Svitolina, suggested Emma’s might be able to regain her form that saw her famously win the 2021 US Open from qualifying, without dropping a set.

“The first match was obviously difficult just to get through, playing a friend. She fought really hard. When I was up, she would fight back. Then against Elina, I thought I played a really high level for two sets. I was pretty proud of that performance. Yeah, I can take a lot of positives into that coming into Melbourne.”

However, a mild scare for her fans when she pulled out of a charity match in Melbourne, citing ‘soreness’. Not much more information has come out of the camp, however, she did speak with the media at Melbourne Park before her round one match regarding her fitness:

“Yeah, physically I feel good. I did a lot of good work in the off-season.

But I think that regardless of how good I may feel on the court on a particular day or in practice, I think to get that level of consistency is going to require more time. So, yeah, I've been doing the right work, doing it consistently. I just need to keep going like more and more. But, yeah, I feel good on court and in the gym.”

This year, the rankings don’t really matter. Emma has shown that she’s well and truly capable of matching it with the best, so long as her body holds up.

“I think success to me in the long-term is, for the rest of the year, to play a full season, to be healthy throughout, to be able to train consistent weeks. I know my level is there, I just need to keep working on it to make it more consistent. I think that will come with time in the gym, time on court, being able to play the calendar, not thinking about, Will I have to pull out from this one, does that hurt. Just being able to go consistently throughout the year. Yeah, I think my level, to be honest, is just too good not to come through if I put consistent work together.”

Unfortunately, the success which was so quickly thrust upon Emma at such a young age, also comes with the obvious negatives, which are sadly a part of all professional sport these days. Yet it feels Emma has had to go through more than most.

The lofty expectations of the public are hard to handle. When you reach the pinnacle so early in your career, and are also an extremely marketable person, any dip in form puts a target on your back. Raducanu has always said there is no pressure on her.

Speaking during her 2022 Wimbledon campaign, she said, “There’s no pressure. Like, why is there any pressure? I’m still 19. It’s a joke. I literally won a Slam. Yes, I have had attention. But I’m a Slam champion, so no one’s going to take that away from me. If anything, the pressure is on those who haven’t done that.”

However, a comment in her most recent press conference, perhaps hinted that, the expectation, and the frustration on injuries, was pulling her down a little.

“Yeah, I feel a lot lighter now than I did for a long time after US Open. I feel like I'm not playing with a backpack of rocks. I feel pretty light and happy. Reflecting on the past, I think people are very important, like the people who I surround myself is maybe sometimes even more so... I think surrounding yourself with competent and knowledgeable people is of course really important, but also the type of person and their character is big-time, just making sure we really get on and intentions are really good.”

Raducanu will open her campaign today against American Shelby Rogers, a player who she demolished 6-2 6-1 in the 4th round of that 2021 US Open run. Clearly she’s not expecting a similar scoreline this time around.

“Yeah, a good opponent. An experienced opponent. Obviously beat Ash in the round before me at US Open. Yeah, she's been on the tour for a long time. She has weapons. I think it's going to probably be a different match. I think last time it was playing on Ashe in front of the American crowd. I remember, I was a break down, 2-Love down, had break points down, and I came back. I'm expecting a different Shelby, I guess. Like, she's going to put up a fight and use her experience.”


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