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Emma Raducanu: ‘Heavy’ grass-court balls influenced decision to miss French Open

Emma Raducanu trains at Nottingham Tennis Centre
Emma Raducanu trains at Nottingham ahead of the start of the grass-court season - Getty Images/Nathan Stirk

Emma Raducanu has renewed calls for the WTA to introduce a uniform tennis ball, “at least for each swing”, claiming the constant switching from week to week contributed to her decision to skip the French Open.

Speaking as she prepared to make her grass-court return in Nottingham on Tuesday, Raducanu said she was grateful that she was “feeling healthy” given that she was “on a mobility scooter this time a year ago”.

The Briton, 21, continues to make her way back from double wrist and ankle surgery last year which left her fearing for her career.

She said she had chosen to prioritise her transition to grass over playing at Roland Garros partly because “the balls over the grass-court season are so heavy” and she wanted to get used to the feel.

The 2021 US Open champion hit out earlier this year at the regular use of different tennis balls on tour, adding to the growing number of players to air their concerns that it increases the risk of injury.

‘Players do get the short end of the stick’

“It was important for me to take time to transition onto the grass because the balls over the grass season are heavy,” Raducanu said. “I feel like the conditions are just getting slower and slower on the grass courts. Especially for myself having had wrist surgeries, I just needed to prioritise the transition.

“I think wrists are always very delicate and I think especially with how the tour is right now, and the fact we have to change balls every single week pretty much, and they don’t regulate the ball.”

She added: “I’m not the only one with wrist issues. I’m probably just the one who’s had them most publicly. So, I think for me it’s definitely a factor where I have to miss certain events because either the conditions or the balls just don’t favour my situation.

“And it is hard as they are trying to make the points longer and tennis more interesting. But I guess players do get the short end of the stick in that sense and hopefully something can be done about that.”

Raducanu has prepared for Tuesday’s match by hitting with the tournament’s No 1 seed Ons Jabeur, who is fresh from her quarter-final defeat by Coco Gauff at Roland Garros.

The Tunisian told reporters that Raducanu was “practising really well” and “hitting big balls”.

Raducanu said Jabeur had provided a useful gauge for where her form was. “I played well,” she said of their hit.

Emma Raducanu trains at Nottingham
Raducanu is happy to be back on the grass but worried about the impact of the balls being changed regularly - Getty Images/Nathan Stirk

Raducanu said Nottingham held a “special place” in her heart because it was where she made her WTA debut in 2021. Although she lost 6-3, 6-4 to fellow Briton Harriet Dart, the quality she showed allowed then coach Nigel Sears to petition Wimbledon for a wildcard. The rest is history. Raducanu reached the fourth round at the All England Club before retiring hurt, then won at Flushing Meadows.

“If I didn’t get that wild card, who knows what would have happened or if the US would have happened?” she reflected. “So I think life is a compilation of butterfly effects and small moments that you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I’m very much looking forward to being back and playing in front of a home crowd. It’s obviously different being back here having won the US Open compared to before, but in a good way, with a lot of support.”

Raducanu, ranked 209 in the world after her eight months on the sidelines last year, will play Ena Shibahara, the world No 274 from Japan on Tuesday. Shibahara came through two rounds of qualifying to reach the main draw.

Raducanu said she felt as strong as she ever has, and now had “zero apprehension” with regard to her wrists. A quick break in Scotland, where she visited Drummond Castle and went for a run around Gleneagles, had helped her to “recharge”.

“I haven’t been to Scotland much,” she said. “I think I went for a Grade 2 [tournament] when I was like 10. But it was amazing just to have the change of scenery and it’s so close. And honestly, I was so happy I went because I saw some of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen.

‘I’m in a really fit place’

“Body-wise, physical-wise, I feel really healthy. I feel really strong. I’ve done amazing work with my trainer over the last few months, since surgery. I’m in a really fit place. I think my wrists are actually in a better position than they ever were. So there’s zero doubt or apprehension.”

Raducanu concluded by saying that she had to remind herself to be thankful for where she was given her predicament 12 months ago when she was on a mobility scooter post-wrist and ankle surgery.

“It was pretty surreal because obviously I couldn’t be on crutches because I’d had two wrist surgeries,” she recalled. “So I had a cast on one hand – I’d timed it so I didn’t have two casts at the same time, obviously – a splint on the other and then my ankle was also pretty much immobilised, in a splint with stitches and everything.

“So I would just scooter around with one knee. As someone who is so active it’s very difficult to just shut your body down.

“I think it’s very easy for me to lose sight of where I was exactly a year ago because it is pretty much a year ago to this day, to this month. You get so caught up in your own world. You want more and more and more.

“But a year ago I was on a scooter, scooting around and I didn’t know [whether she would play again]… of course there was an element of doubt. So to be healthy, I need to cherish it.”

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