Emma Raducanu faces US Open upheaval after opponent Jennifer Brady withdraws

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Emma Raducanu faces US Open upheaval after opponent Jennifer Brady withdraws - Getty Images
Emma Raducanu faces US Open upheaval after opponent Jennifer Brady withdraws - Getty Images

Lucky break or disruptive late rethink? Either way, Britain’s most exciting young player Emma Raducanu will have to adjust her preparation, after her scheduled US Open opponent Jennifer Brady pulled out at the 11th hour.

News came through at around 5pm BST on Monday that Brady was withdrawing with a knee injury, and that Stefanie Voegele – the Swiss player who lost in Friday’s final round of qualifying – would step up to take her place.

These are two very different challenges. Brady was the 13th seed – a finalist at January’s Australian Open and a semi-finalist in New York last year – while Voegele is an old hand (at 31) who has spent most of her career on the fringes of the world’s top hundred. She also has an uninspiring record at the majors, having entered 31 such tournaments and won only eight matches, the most recent being four-and-a-half years ago.

On the other hand, Voegele has at least been playing tennis consistently over the summer, whereas Brady has been hobbled by a series of injuries that has restricted her to just a single victory since the French Open. And coming into a tournament as a lucky loser – tennis jargon for a player promoted to the main draw at the last minute – can also promote a sense of freedom.

Still, one of the wonderful things about Raducanu’s short career to date has been her steely mentality. With most young players, any minor disruption can trigger an attack of nerves. You never quite know when they might go into their shell and start bunting the ball back gently. Or, alternatively, move to the other extreme and swing wildly for the lines.

Thus far, Raducanu has been blissfully unaffected by any of these issues. Admittedly, there was an element of stress in her dramatic exit from Wimbledon. But it wasn’t as if she had been playing badly in that fourth-round match, which ended in an attack of breathing difficulties. She traded groundstrokes with the taller, stronger and more experienced Alja Tomljanovic until she was completely gassed. It was primarily her body that protested, rather than her mind.

Having finished her A-Levels in June – and delivered an A-star in maths plus an A in economics –Raducanu is at the stage of life when many of her peers might dream of grabbing a backpack and setting out on a tour of the world’s youth hostels.

Such ambitions have largely been scotched by Covid. But Raducanu is enjoying a rare opportunity to travel, moving under the international flag of sport. And how she has capitalised. Her two-month tour of the USA that has already delivered 11 wins as against only three defeats. One of those defeats came when she was forced to retire with heat exhaustion, along with several other players, in brutal conditions in Landisville, Pennsylvania.

There is nothing like time on court to give you a sense of self-assurance. And after outclassing world No95 Mayar Sherif in Friday’s final round of qualifying, Raducanu told reporters that “I was feeling very confident out there after the amount of matches I had in the last few weeks.”

In the same interview, she was asked if she would prefer to play a high seed in the main draw – which would most likely mean a stadium court – or a less daunting opponent. “I am up for anything,” she replied. Which is handy, because her intended slot on Louis Armstrong Stadium – the 14,000-seat arena that used to hold the finals here until 1997 – was cancelled along with the Brady match.

Instead, Raducanu will play on Court 17, which sounds like it would be out in the boondocks, but is actually the fourth-biggest stage at Flushing Meadows, with a capacity of 2,000 fans. She has effectively swapped billing with the match between 2016 champion Angelique Kerber and Dayana Yastremska.

From being a clear underdog, Raducanu now finds herself the favourite. Such a late switch would jar many 18-year-old prospects. But one doubts that it will faze her at all.

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