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Emma Raducanu: I feared for my future after double wrist surgery

Emma Radacanu in Melbourne/Raducanu: I feared for my future after double wrist surgery
Emma Raducanu practises in Melbourne, where she has been given a favourable first-round draw against Shelby Rogers - David Gray/AFP

Emma Raducanu has admitted that she feared for her future when she suffered a recurrence of her chronic wrist pain in August, only three months after she had undergone surgery on both hands.

Raducanu was making her transition through the four colours of tennis balls – starting with the soft red ones that are used by children – and thought she was ready for standard yellows. But she lasted less than a fortnight before the pain returned.

Asked if that moment had been scary, Raducanu replied, “Actually, yes. I started hitting in August and after that, I’d say, the first eight, nine days, I was feeling pain and then it just didn’t go away. And then I didn’t start hitting again with the yellow ball until pretty much like the last week of November. I was just worried.”

During that late early autumn period, the reports coming out of the National Tennis Centre were less than encouraging. Raducanu was still able to train her body in the gym, but her hitting was restricted to those soft balls again, as she built up through the various categories: red, orange and green.

In early November, Raducanu caused her many admirers further concern by pulling out of a planned exhibition event in Macau on Dec 2. At this stage, some observers feared for her Australasian trip as well.

Fortunately, though, she is a player who moves quickly through the gears. The fact that her game has effectively gone from zero to 60mph in just six weeks – as evidenced by some encouraging performances in Auckland a fortnight ago – is a reminder of how quickly this sport can change.

“To be in the position I am now, after only really like six weeks of training with yellow ball, I’m pretty proud of myself and the team for getting me here,” said Raducanu, whose trajectory in the summer of 2021 was similarly steep.

Although she was not injured that year, she came straight out of A-levels into humble British Tour events with no line judges, ball kids or even umpires. Six weeks later, she was being interviewed by Sue Barker on national television.

“I was always going to feel pain in my wrist,” Raducanu said, in relation to her rehabilitation last summer. “But I mean, credit to the surgeon, he did a great job.”

Asked about the evidence of the two operations – which can be seen in a discreet pair of two-inch-long marks on the back of her wrists – Raducanu said: “They are battle wounds. I guess I won’t be a hand model but I can throw that career away. But they’re healing nicely and they look a lot better now. So it’s just part of the journey. When I’m like 80 I can show everyone, ‘These are the battle scars’.”

Emma Radacanu signs autographs in Melbourne/Raducanu: I feared for my future after double wrist surgery
Raducanu signs autographs in Melbourne ahead of her opening match on Tuesday - Julian Finney/Getty Images

The operations were necessitated by chronic pain in both wrist joints, which the doctors eventually tracked back to bony spurs known as carpal bosses. Players can sometimes manage this condition, but Raducanu’s unstable coaching regime may have triggered problems when she increased her workload – and changed her racket set-up – after Wimbledon in 2022.

At least the prognosis is better for players such as Raducanu – who needed only a small procedure to shave off the irregular bony bumps – than it is for those who need surgery on their wrist tendons, or on the delicate joint between the ulnar, scaphoid and radial bones.

Dominic Thiem and Juan Martín del Potro are both examples of players who needed surgery on their wrist tendons and were never the same again. As for the wrist-joint scenario, former Wimbledon junior champion Laura Robson underwent a procedure to clean this area up in 2014, but the recovery proved so complex that she took 17 months to return.

Entering the Australian Open on a protected ranking, Raducanu has earned a favourable first-round draw against Shelby Rogers, an American who has also been out for a lengthy period with injury. She is the most celebrated of the five British players who will open their campaigns on Tuesday, making that a busy day for expatriate fans at Melbourne Park.

Andy Murray is due to play on Monday afternoon, while Jodie Burrage is already out, having gone down 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 against Tamara Korpatsch on Sunday. This was a frustrating loss, because Burrage dominated the first set but then lost her way completely after Korpatsch took a lengthy seven-minute bathroom break.

“I did ask him,” Burrage said, with regard to the chair umpire, “and he said, ‘Yes, she’s used her three minutes, she’s just on her way back’. But then that took another few minutes. I get that it’s a big park, though, so maybe it just took a long time for her to get there.

“I went over, spoke to my coach, tried to use some time there, got up, started moving around. [You have to] get used to how you want to deal with it when your opponent is trying to disrupt your rhythm, which is what she did in the second and third [sets] because it seemed like every change [of ends] it was something different, whether it was her shoe or her rackets or towel. I just need to get better with dealing with that.”

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