Emma Raducanu makes an impression on her Australian Open bow

US Open winner sees off Sloane Stephens in three sets as she shakes New York hangover

Emma Raducanu beat Sloane Stephens on her Australian Open debut. Photograph: Tertius Pickard/AP

Emma Raducanu beat Sloane Stephens on her Australian Open debut. Photograph: Tertius Pickard/AP

 

As Emma Raducanu lined up to compete in the Australian Open for the first time in her career as a professional, reminders of her sheer inexperience were ever present.

Despite being a Grand Slam champion herself, the encounter with Sloane Stephens would mark her first match against a Grand Slam champion. In the end, she contested just her third career three-set match at the top level.

It took a gripping one hour 45 minutes filled with tense, attritional exchanges, but Raducanu withstood a second-set barrage from her opponent in a turbulent match to defeat Stephens 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 and reach the second round in Melbourne.

“I definitely wanted to go out there and start playing aggressively and start putting my game on the court,” said Raducanu.

“I felt that I was actually just really enjoying my time here, especially like going out to practice earlier, I had quite a few people watching. So I was really enjoying it, and I think that the crowd that stayed pretty late, we were having a good time. I was feeding off that, for sure.”

Raducanu swept into the match with high intensity and energy from the beginning, and she accompanied her successes with big fist pumps and loud screams of “c’mon!” As she smothered Stephens with her return of serve, taking the ball early and refusing to relinquish the baseline, Stephens was barely present and she initially offered little resistance.

Raducanu finished how she started, bulldozing through the final set, and upon her victory ended her night by dropping her racket and covering her face in awe.

“I think it was just a sense of pride,” she said. “I had some adversity with having Covid and then last week so I was just so proud to turn it around so fast. I think of my level last week – just seven days ago – and it was not good before the match in Sydney. And today I was actually pretty pleased with it so I was very happy with the way I turned it around.”

When asked afterwards about her first experience against a Grand Slam champion, Raducanu explained that she is viewing this season as a crucial step in her learning process, wherever it takes her.

“I think 2022 is all about learning for me. Being in those situations of, you know, winning a set and then having to fight in a decider is definitely just all just accumulating into a bank of experience that I can tap into later on down the line. Yeah, very happy that today I can add to that.”

Afterwards, Stephens said that any similarities between them stop at the tournament they both won. She described Raducanu as “carrying a whole country”, a reference to the pressure she faces in Britain which is a completely different situation to her own.

“I was talking to someone in the locker room and I’m like, ‘We’ll be here when she comes down,’ but not Emma, but just in general. Like, it all is like a cycle and I think learning how to deal with it early on is the best way to handle it just because there’s always a lot of ups and downs in tennis.”

Backing up big results is a universal challenge for tennis players and earlier in the day, Leylah Annie Fernandez, the beaten finalist in New York, also struggled as she lost in the first round to Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis. Fernandez has had considerably more experience at the top level. Raducanu took a nice step forward.

There are other things to learn about being a tennis player, such as simply when to go to sleep. Raducanu finished her match at midnight and her press did not conclude until well after 1.30am.

“It’s way past my bedtime right now,” she said. “I think that it’s something I’m also learning about, myself and what works for me, dealing with those late finishes and the night matches and maybe not being able to get to sleep as early because of the adrenaline you’re running on. I think it will be a good experience learning from that.”

The big names prevailed on Tuesday but Australian veteran Sam Stosur stole the show in her final tournament.

The 37-year-old, who defeated Serena Williams to win the US Open more than a decade ago, announced ahead of the event that this will be her final appearance as a singles player.

Now ranked 487, Stosur had not won a singles match since the first round here last year, but she delighted her home fans by coming from a set down to defeat Robin Anderson 6-7 (5) 6-3 6-3.

“That’s kind of been the focus all along since I knew this was going to be my last event, was to play how I want to play, go out and enjoy it, pretty much do what I did today,” said Stosur, who struggled with the pressure at Melbourne Park in her prime and has never made it past the fourth round.

“I couldn’t really ask for much more. It was just great to get out there and play that sort of tennis in that sort of match out there with that crowd.”

Second seed Aryna Sabalenka came into the tournament winless this season and in the middle of a serving crisis.

She hit 12 doubles faults against Australian Storm Sanders but recovered from a set and 3-1 down to win 5-7 6-3 6-2.

Sabalenka credited her victory to former Wimbledon champion Mark Philippoussis, who she revealed reached out to her and offered some serving tips.

The Belarusian said: “He was in Adelaide and after my second match he just wrote me, like, ‘Well, girl, just stop thinking a lot on your serve. If you have some time today . . . we can go out on the court, I can help you.‘

“And I think at 9pm or 8pm we went on court and we served a lot and he gave me some tips about what should I focus on during the game when I’m struggling with my serve. I’m really thankful to him for this help because that’s what helped me today in the match to just survive there.”

Third seed Garbine Muguruza was a 6-3 6-4 winner over young Frenchwoman Clara Burel while seventh seed Iga Swiatek won 11 games in a row to beat Harriet Dart 6-3 6-0 and in-form sixth seed Anett Kontaveit saw off Katerina Siniakova 6-2 6-3.

Simona Halep is also through after a 6-4 6-3 win over Magdalena Frech but another former finalist, 20th seed Petra Kvitova, continued her poor form, going down 6-2 6-2 to Sorana Cirstea, while former champion Angelique Kerber was beaten 6-4 6-3 by Kaia Kanepi. – Guardian

Women’s first-round results

(6) Anett Kontaveit (Est) bt Katerina Siniakova (Cze) 6-2 6-3, Clara Tauson (Den) bt Astra Sharma (Aus) 6-3 6-4, Ana Konjuh (Cro) bt Shelby Rogers (USA) 4-6 6-3 7-5, (27) Danielle Collins (USA) bt Caroline Dolehide (USA) 6-1 6-3, (19) Elise Mertens (Bel) bt Vera Zvonareva (Rus) 6-4 7-5, Irina-Camelia Begu (Rom) bt Oceane Dodin (Fra) 2-6 7-5 6-3, Shuai Zhang (Chn) bt Viktorija Golubic (Swi) 6-3 6-4, (12) Elena Rybakina (Kaz) bt Zarina Diyas (Kaz) 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-1, (14) Simona Halep (Rom) bt Magdalena Frech (Pol) 6-4 6-3, Beatriz Haddad Maia (Bra) bt Katie Volynets (USA) 3-6 6-2 6-3, Danka Kovinic (Mne) bt Su Jeong Jang (Kor) 6-3 2-6 6-4, (17) Emma Raducanu (Brit) bt Sloane Stephens (USA) 6-0 2-6 6-1, (29) Tamara Zidansek (Slo) bt Arantxa Rus (Ned) 3-6 6-3 7-6 (10-8), Heather Watson (Brit) bt Mayar Sherif (Egy) 6-3 5-7 6-2, Alize Cornet (Fra) bt Viktoriya Tomova (Bul) 6-3 6-3, (3) Garbine Muguruza (Esp) bt Clara Burel (Fra) 6-3 6-4, (7) Iga Swiatek (Pol) bt Harriet Dart (Brit) 6-3 6-0, Rebecca Peterson (Swe) bt Daria Saville (Aus) 6-2 6-3, Magda Linette (Pol) bt Anastasija Sevastova (Lat) 6-4 7-5, (25) Daria Kasatkina (Rus) bt Stefanie Voegele (Swi) 6-3 6-1, Sorana Cirstea (Rom) bt (20) Petra Kvitova (Cze) 6-2 6-2, Kristina Kucova (Svk) bt Misaki Doi (Jpn) 6-3 7-5, Samantha Stosur (Aus) bt Robin Anderson (USA) 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-3, (10) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Rus) bt Anna Bondar (Hun) 6-2 6-1, Kaia Kanepi (Est) bt (16) Angelique Kerber (Ger) 6-4 6-3, Marie Bouzkova (Cze) bt Rebecca Marino (Can) 6-1 6-3, Hailey Baptiste (USA) bt Caroline Garcia (Fra) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3, Maddison Inglis (Aus) bt (23) Leylah Annie Fernandez (Can) 6-4 6-2, (31) Marketa Vondrousova (Cze) bt Priscilla Hon (Aus) 6-2 6-3, Ludmilla Samsonova (Rus) bt Emina Bektas (USA) 7-5 6-4, Xiyu Wang (Chn) bt Ann Li (USA) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3, (2) Aryna Sabalenka (Blr) bt Storm Sanders (Aus) 5-7 6-3 6-2

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