Emma Raducanu follows England’s Euro 2024 lead by ‘winning ugly’ in SW19 opener

Emma Raducanu took inspiration from England’s narrow escape at Euro 2024 by “winning ugly” in her opening match at Wimbledon.

The 21-year-old had a slice of good fortune when her scheduled opponent, 22nd seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, withdrew on Monday morning because of illness.

Her replacement, Mexican lucky loser Renata Zarazua, appeared a much kinder prospect on paper but the world number 98 is a tricky player and Raducanu survived some difficult moments in a 7-6 (0) 6-3 victory on Centre Court.

Emma Raducanu wears an England football shirt
Emma Raducanu warmed up on Sunday wearing an England football shirt (John Walton/PA)

In her on-court interview, Raducanu referenced England’s scrappy win over Slovakia in Germany, saying: “Like watching the football last night, winning ugly – it all counts.”

Raducanu knows what it is like to face intense scrutiny and expectation, and she added in her press conference: “Last night, I had a feeling that they would still turn it around.

“The people I was watching with were like, ‘I don’t know’. It was getting to the 93rd minute. (I said), ‘I have a feeling, I have a feeling’. Then Jude (Bellingham) hit that insane goal.

“When I’m watching, I’m listening to the commentary, I can almost picture it. It’s just the way the story flips, depending on how the result is going.

“For sure, I sympathise with the players who are being told they need to play a lot better, need to play perfect. I think at the end of the day it’s about getting over the line.

“Today I used it as motivation. It doesn’t need to be beautiful, it doesn’t need to be perfect. As long as you get through the opening rounds, you give yourself another chance to play better.

“For circumstances to align, as long as you’re still in the tournament, you keep giving yourself that chance.”

Zarazua had never won a tour-level grass-court match and was making her main draw Wimbledon debut but she was a completely different opponent to the flat-hitting Alexandrova, bamboozling Raducanu at times with drop shots and chopped forehands.

Renata Zarazua bends one leg to hit a sliced forehand
Renata Zarazua proved to be a tricky opponent (John Walton/PA)

The British player lost her break advantage in the first set and it could have gone either way until the tie-break, when Raducanu seized the initiative and did not look back.

The start of the second set was also tense, with Raducanu saving two break points in the third game, but she held her nerve and eventually clinched Britain’s first win of the tournament.

The Kent player was making her return to Centre Court two years on from her last appearance following wrist and ankle surgeries.

On the change in schedule, she said: “It’s really difficult. I think with the notice, it was only a few hours really. When you’ve prepped since the draw came out to play one person, then it’s a complete different style of player, as well, you’ve worked on specific things.

“But I think it’s all about just competing at the end of the day. When it’s such short notice, you just have to keep your head together and just stay calm, try not to let the external circumstances throw you too much. I think I managed to deal with it really well today.”

Raducanu next faces experienced Belgian Elise Mertens, which will not be an easy match, but, with eighth seed Zheng Qinwen losing and third seed Aryna Sabalenka pulling out injured, it already looks to be an open section of the draw.

Raducanu, though, will not be getting ahead of herself having experienced so many setbacks since her 2021 US Open triumph.

“As I said in the first press conference, I’d be over the moon if I won my first round here,” she said. “And I really am. I feel just the joy to be on site, the joy to be part of the buzz. I’m really just enjoying myself.

Emma Raducanu shouts in celebration
Emma Raducanu won the tie-break 7-0 (John Walton/PA)

“I think that now, having had a few wins under my belt, I’m really cherishing every single one because I know how difficult it is to be on the flip side of it.

“Results wise, I have no expectations. I just have expectations of myself to really put myself on the line on the court and fight and not let any frustrations get to me.”

But, reminded that her first-round win in New York three years ago also came against a lucky loser, Raducanu said with a smile: “For sure, it did pop into my head a little bit.”