Emma Raducanu finds balance on grand slam return to attack Australian Open

Raducanu beat Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-2 in her first grand slam win in 12 months  (Getty)
Raducanu beat Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-2 in her first grand slam win in 12 months (Getty)

It had been a year to the day since Emma Raducanu last experienced the elation of a grand slam win: 12 months exactly since a 6-3 6-2 victory over Tamara Korpatsch at the 2023 Australian Open. A year on, Raducanu stepped onto the same court, the 1573 Arena in Melbourne Park, and in 86 minutes she had secured the same result: a 6-3 6-2 win over Shelby Rogers.

But that is where the similarities end. After missing the final eight months of last season following a triple surgery procedure on both wrists and her left ankle, Raducanu returned to the grand slam stage refreshed and played with renewed purpose. Before the Australian Open, Raducanu had spoken about how she felt dragged down by the weight of expectation in the months after her US Open win in 2021, explaining the pressure was “like playing with a backpack of rocks”, and she reasoned that the time spent away from the game had allowed her to take a new perspective ahead of the season.

There will be tougher tests to come, but Raducanu was encouraged by her opening performance: Rogers was a fitting opponent for her to face – a player who the Brit destroyed on her way to winning the US Open as an 18-year-old qualifier, a run that was only possible because of how the teenager played without fear or hesitation as she progressed through the tournament, right up until the final. It is an approach that suits Raducanu’s game, coupling a strong and accurate first serve with the instant forehand or backhand strike aimed at the lines.

It is a brave approach, though, and one that may have contributed to the suffocating feeling of pressure that Raducanu faced once she took her first steps on the tour as a grand slam champion. To swing freely requires confidence and stability, and Raducanu has admitted that there have been times since the US Open when she has had neither, not just in terms of her camp and inner circle, but in her body too. The surgeries on her wrist have allowed her to play without pain for the first time in a year and half.

Last year, she arrived at the Australian Open in a wheelchair. “The Emma who walked on court 12 months ago had a huge cyst removed about 10 days before,” Raducanu said. “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. I think I’m more level-headed. I think things around me have settled. I do feel better, and there’s just less, I’d say... highs and lows around. It’s just more of an equilibrium.”

It all contributed to what was an impressive opening performance from Raducanu, as she balanced her aggressive game with a sensible stance at the baseline. In Rogers, Raducanu was up against a player who was also making her return after missing the second half of last season due to injury. Unlike Raducanu, Rogers was rusty from the start and Raducanu was smart to play a controlled game when the American struggled to contain her own attacking style from the baseline. Raducanu did not have to face a break point throughout the match and showed composure when serving out the win.

Raducanu closed out victory in style against the American (Reuters)
Raducanu closed out victory in style against the American (Reuters)

Yet, perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Raducanu’s display was not the result at all, but how she was prepared to win or lose on her own terms. She explained the new perspective gained from her time away: “I think what I realised is the difference between me potentially losing in the first round or doing really well at a tournament is honestly really, really slim,” she said. “It’s just in the way that I move, in the way that I do things physically. I think just not being so drastic, I would say, because I know it’s not far away at all, and I know the more I practice consistently, it will come up.”

Raducanu, after all, is simply in the early days of starting her process again, though with the added experience of her time on tour since the US Open. She is aware there is less noise around her now. The changes to her backroom team have helped, as has the presence of childhood coach Nick Cavaday. “The people around me, I think it’s pretty calm now,” Raducanu said. “It’s nice to be with Nick. I’ve known him since I was a kid, I feel very comfortable there. Just all aspects really of my life I feel like are calming down and settled.”

Raducanu was not aware of her draw at the Australian Open, or that she was playing Yafan Wang, the World 94, in Thursday’s second round rather than Sorana Cirstea, the 22nd seed. Not knowing was part of the process and, win or lose, she will feel she is already getting closer.

Jack Draper’s five-set epic leads strong day for the Brits

by Eleanor Crooks

Jack Draper blamed stress for the physical struggles that led to him vomiting in a courtside bin at the end of his five-set win over Marcos Giron.

It is a measure of how inexperienced the 22-year-old still is at the highest level that he has never previously played a match that went the distance, and he looked in serious trouble at two sets to one down against American Giron in 31C heat at the Australian Open.

But Draper has been working hard on his physical conditioning and it paid off as he fought back to win 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-0 6-2 after three hours and 20 minutes.

As soon as he had shaken hands with Giron after a final gruelling rally he ran to the bin to be sick and it was several minutes before he was able to walk off the court.

Jack Draper felt the heat in his win over Marcos Giron (AP)
Jack Draper felt the heat in his win over Marcos Giron (AP)

“It was weird,” he said. “I obviously played such a long point, maybe it was sort of a reaction to finally getting over the line. I don’t know. I kind of felt bad because I obviously just beat the guy, and I was saying, ‘I need to shake your hand, mate, but I need to get to that bin’.”

There were more straightforward wins for Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulter on a very good day for the British contingent.

Norrie dispelled concerns over the wrist problem that forced him out of last week’s tournament in Auckland with a routine 6-4 6-4 6-2 victory over Juan Pablo Varillas, while Boulter defeated Yuan Yue 7-5 7-6 (1).

It was not quite a perfect day, with Dan Evans beaten 4-6 7-6 (8) 6-1 7-6 (4) by Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego.

The British number two took heart from his display, though, having come into the tournament short on fitness following a torn calf in October.

Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek open with straight-set wins

Carlos Alcaraz marked his return to the Australian Open in convincing fashion with a victory over veteran Richard Gasquet.

Alcaraz missed the tournament last year with a leg injury and was in a hurry to make it through to round two, clinching a 7-6 (5) 6-1 6-2 win under the lights of the Rod Laver Arena.

It was a good day on court for the leading names, with eighth seed Holger Rune defeating Yoshihito Nishioka 6-2 4-6 7-6 (3) 6-4 while 11th seed Casper Ruud eased to a 6-1 6-3 6-1 win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev had to come from a set down to see off German compatriot Dominik Koepfer 4-6 6-3 7-6 (3) 6-3.

In the women’s draw, Iga Swiatek won the battle of the grand slam champions against Sofia Kenin to reach the second round of the Australian Open with a 7-6 (2) 6-2 victory

Third seed Elena Rybakina, who lost to Aryna Sabalenka in the final 12 months ago, saved three set points in the first-set tie-break before beating Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (6) 6-4, while fifth seed Jessica Pegula was a 6-2 6-4 winner over Rebecca Marino.

There were also victories for two other former grand-slam winners, with 18th seed Victoria Azarenka beating Camila Giorgi 6-1 4-6 6-3 and Sloane Stephens seeing off Olivia Gadecki 6-3 6-1.

Includes reporting from PA