After a challenging 2022 season that saw her ranking fall into the seventies, Emma Raducanu is back on the court and she looks like a new woman. Refreshed, measured, and fierce.
Speaking to the press ahead of her Monday morning opener at the Australian Open, Raducanu shrugged off concerns over her injured ankle that caused her to withdraw midway through her second-round match in Auckland last week.
“We’ve been working very hard. It’s been a team effort to get me to this place and we’ve definitely expedited the process.
“But, I’m feeling really good and looking forward to getting out on the court. It’s really huge props to my team here and back home who have helped get me back to this place,” Raducanu said.
She wasn’t kidding.
On Monday morning, the 2021 US Open Champion sported a strapped left ankle yet dominated a tricky elder German stateswoman Tamara Korpatsch 6-3, 6-2 to set up a mouth-watering second-round clash with American teen and world number 7, Coco Gauff.
The win felt like a landmark moment for Raducanu who had been spotted training at Melbourne Park almost wholly unable to bear weight on her ankle seven days prior thus highlighting her resilience.
Understandably, the Brit was slightly tentative on her serve and backhand at the start of the match – being the primary recipients of her left ankle’s discomfort – but was otherwise assertive and, in her own words – “swinging freely” – something she wasn’t able to do with great regularity in 2022.
“[E]verything I've done has been quite controlled the last week. So to test it out in a real match and with the unpredictability and stuff, like, just getting used to it in the beginning”, Raducanu said post-match.
“I think you know it's there, and if anything, it kind of alleviates any pressure, because you're, like, well, I've done so well to get myself onto the court, and my team has done so well... it's just a great achievement for all of us,” she said referring to the presence of her ankle injury in the back of her mind.
“Then for me to be out there, I might as well just enjoy all the hard work we've done to get myself here.”
Raducanu, whose forehand was clearly the biggest weapon on the court, dominated Korpatsch from the baseline and attacked the German’s serve mercilessly and methodically winning 80% of points when Korpatsch hit a second serve.
As is the curse of a woman of global notoriety, in the eyes of many, Raducanu will never do enough to justify her talent and status as a grand slam champion. One look at tabloids such as the Daily Mail and anything tweeted from Piers Morgan and you’d believe Raducanu’s career has been an abject failure.
Yet, for a twenty-year-old woman facing all the pressure in the world, Raducanu remains calm as she explained that time is on her side having only recently celebrated her twentieth birthday.
“I think my parents still see me as a kid so that's never going to change. But yeah, it's like you kind of think in your head that 20 is old, but then you actually realise 'I've got like 15 years of this, if I want it', so I've still got a long time. It's just important to put that in perspective and not think you're running out of time at age 20,” she said on Saturday.
When quizzed in her post-match press conference her upcoming opponent, Coco Gauff, noted the similarities between the pair and acknowledged the added pressure faced by Raducanu as the apparent saviour of women’s tennis in Britain.
“I mean, obviously she's gone through a lot of pressure, bursting onto the scene. I feel like probably more than I have experienced coming to win a slam. And especially I feel like being from the UK, being like the first British person to do something in a long time, probably is a lot more pressure than what I'm used to being an American.
“You know, Serena is retired now, but she was always the American that people looked to.
“Obviously I was a lot younger when I got the attention, so I definitely think handling it at an older age is a little bit easier than at 15. But also, at the same time, I didn't win a slam (smiling).
“I'm not British, and wasn't the first British woman to do that in I don't know how many years to do what she did.”
Raducanu herself is eager to face Gauff for the first time in what WTA will hope becomes a long-time rivalry, and noted the similar journey the pair have shared.
“I'm really looking forward to this match,” Raducanu told the press.
“I'm very up for it. Coco has obviously done a lot of great things and she's playing well. I'm just looking forward to the matchup. I think we're both good, young players, we're both coming through. Yeah, part of the next generation of tennis really. Yeah, it's going to be a great match.
“I think she's a great athlete. When she first came to Wimbledon, I think after that, took her a little bit to adjust as well, but then she definitely found her feet.
“She's playing really good tennis and looking really solid right now”
Amongst all that has gone on at the Australian Open with stars dropping like flies, tournament organisers will be thrilled that two generational talents held up their end of the bargain to face off on Wednesday – most likely at Rod Laver Arena.
For Raducanu, Gauff poses an enormous test and, on form, you’d think the American will emerge victorious.
But after a year of pain, tears, coaching changes, and growing pains, what is more important for Raducanu is not the result but the battle.
Raducanu must be aggressive, composed, and resilient to take it to Gauff and demonstrate to her peers that she means business in 2023.
Irrespective of what happens on Wednesday, Raducanu looks ready to rock in 2023.