Emma Raducanu hits back at critics after destroying Sloane Stephens at Eastbourne

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain celebrates against Sloane Stephens of United States at the Rothesay International in Eastbourne
Emma Raducanu was far too good for Sloane Stephens in the second set - Getty Images/Kate Green

Emma Raducanu had her critics in mind when she wrote “My own pace” on the camera lens before coming off court in Eastbourne.

Having just routed the former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in straight sets, Raducanu felt well placed to defend her recent scheduling – which had raised eyebrows when she declined to travel to Paris for last month’s French Open qualifying event.

“Even though I might get challenged or questioned for not playing certain tournaments like the French Open or the Olympics, I think that for me, that is just part of it,” Raducanu told reporters after her first-round win at the Rothesay International.

“[It’s about] doing things at my own speed and doing things how I want to, rather than how everyone else thinks is best for me, because ultimately me and the close few people around me only know what is actually best for me and my game.”

Raducanu had earned criticism by skipping qualifying at Roland Garros five weeks ago, even though her ranking (then just outside the world’s top 200) was high enough to earn a place in the draw.

There were also plenty of observers who queried her decision to skip the upcoming Olympic Games, which will be played on the same clay courts at Roland Garros in the south-west corner of Paris.

But Raducanu’s recent sequence of three grass-court wins in four matches has underlined the benefits of surface-specific training, while also boosting her back inside the world’s top-150 players. On this evidence, no one will want to draw her in the first round of Wimbledon, where she has received a wild card.

“I would say it’s just I’m going to do things on my own time, at my own pace, and I’m in no rush to do anything,” said Raducanu, who had said on Monday that she is rediscovering her love of tennis.

“Everything I’m doing and playing for now is for myself. Whether that’s tournament scheduling, whether that’s how much time I take off to train compared to compete, I think I’m just way more focused on my own lane and less susceptible to outside opinions or views.”

Exploring this change in mindset in more detail, Raducanu suggested that she had taken some time to adjust to her new life as a grand-slam champion after her stunning US Open win in 2021.

Indeed, Stephens herself had predicted as much after they met in Australia in January 2022, warning that “there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs. I think she, yeah, has just a lot to learn”.

After their latest encounter, Raducanu explained that “it’s pretty natural, becoming a different person overnight almost with the circumstances. Not necessarily myself”.

She added: “At such a young age, it’s easy to get caught up in it. I think at one point I was chasing, playing too many tournaments when I wasn’t ready, and then I was just picking up niggle after niggle in every tournament, because I never really gave myself any time to do the training and the work. I think that’s something I did a lot better this year.

“This year especially I have rushed less, played less, chased less, and it’s been working out for me, especially in this middle section of the year.

“There have been certain tournaments where I didn’t necessarily want to play, and it’s kind of showed in my game.

“I would say I’m pretty expressive. You can see when I’m very happy and excited, and you can see the opposite too. So I think that is just mainly picking my moments and smart scheduling for me.”

Raducanu will play second seed Jessica Pegula on Wednesday as she builds towards her third Wimbledon campaign. She was unable to perform at the All England Club last summer as a result of surgery on both wrists and one ankle.

Raducanu destroys Stephens at Eastbourne

Emma Raducanu trounced the former US Open champion Sloane Stephens with a devastating performance at Eastbourne. Afterwards, she rated her 6-4, 6-0 victory as her best effort on grass since she first burst into the national consciousness by reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2021.

“I think my best performance on this surface was probably when I played the third round at Wimbledon [beating Sorana Cirstea that first summer],” said Raducanu, with admirable precision.

“And then probably the second round at Wimbledon [where she beat last year’s champion Marketa Vondrousova]. This was probably, like, third maybe.”

Admittedly, Stephens did rather give up the chase, dropping her intensity noticeably after going down a break in the second set. But Raducanu had been forced to earn her advantage after a tight and nervy first half-hour.

Once she had claimed the opening set, however, she was untouchable as she romped to victory in just 76 minutes. Her second-set performance delivered 13 clean winners to place against just one unforced error, leaving a demoralised Stephens counting down the seconds until she could finally sneak off the court.

The key game came at 4-4 in the first set, as Raducanu served and went 15-40 down. She saved the two break points brilliantly, first stranding Stephens with a perfectly judged drop shot – the only time she used this ploy in the match – and then banging down an ace.

After an extended to-and-fro, Raducanu held for 5-4 and then reeled off another seven games to march into the second round in fine fettle.

After concluding the win, which should carry her back into the world’s top 150 even if she does not win another match in Eastbourne, Raducanu performed an on-court interview in which she said: “For me, it was a case of adapting to the court, I have never played out on this Centre Court before and every grass court plays very differently.

Raducanu hit 13 clean winners and just one unforced error during her victory
Raducanu hit 13 clean winners and just one unforced error during her victory - Reuters/Andrew Boyers

“I think it was a very close first set and I was down all the way through in the first set but I managed to break. It was difficult as Sloane is super-athletic and in the first set especially she was making a lot of balls and counter-punching really well. So it took a lot to try to hit through her but I managed to figure it out in the second set.”

That tight game at 4-4 felt like it was the moment at which Raducanu found her form. She had been wayward early on, with her first-serve percentage hovering only just above 50 per cent and her forehand looking decidedly shaky.

But after several conversations with her coach Nick Cavaday at courtside, Raducanu began to time the ball better. It looked like Cavaday was encouraging her to play with more shape, and by the end she was stroking the ball around with confidence and fluency.

Her returns were particularly devastating, ruthlessly dissecting Stephens’s underpowered serve. It was a backhand return winner, hit up the line, which completed the rout.

Asked how much input Cavaday had supplied, Raducanu declined to offer a clear answer, but did explain that the heaviness of this year’s Slazenger balls had necessitated a change of tactics after that tricky first half-hour. Striking through the court had proved ineffective, so she switched to exploiting the angles more cannily.

“I think it was more just, like, ‘Okay, I need to figure out how to hit through these conditions,’” Raducanu said. “In the first set, she had so much time on the ball. I was just getting outplayed a little bit because my ball speed was probably too low.”

Asked whether the weight of balls could create any physical problems, given that she underwent double-wrist surgery last year, Raducanu said: “It is something that I just need to take care of and make sure I’m doing all my rehab. It’s not just me on the grass. A lot of the players pick up wrist, elbow, shoulder injuries or niggles, because it’s just slower and slower [so that] the viewers watch longer points.”

Raducanu’s win earns her a crack at Jessica Pegula, the world No5, who won last week’s WTA event in Berlin. Despite being the daughter of Terry Pegula, the billionaire Buffalo Bills owner, Pegula keeps such a low profile that she was able to catch the train down to Eastbourne ahead of this tournament.

On the court, she is a tough competitor who defeated Raducanu in their one previous meeting at Cincinnati in 2022.

Raducanu rips through Stephens: as it happened

02:30 PM BST

The winning moment

02:28 PM BST

Raducanu speaks after beating Sloane Stephens

For me it was a case of adapting to the court, I have never played out on this centre court before and every grass court plays very differently.

I think it was a very close first set and I was down all the way through in the first set but I managed to break. It was difficult as Sloane is very difficult to break. She was making many balls and was counter-punching very well.’

Thank you to everyone who came and supported. I could really hear you guys and feel it. It’s a much bigger court than the center court in Nottingham. It’s really nice to see so many people out here battling the heat. I actually think it’s worse for you guys sitting down in the heat than for us playing and sweating in it, so big props to you . . .

Asked if she was planning to watch England team face Slovenia at Euro 2024 later tonight:

Yes, 100 per cent! I am there and ready to go! Go England!

02:23 PM BST

Raducanu 6-4 6-0 Stephens*

Raducanu is relishing her Eastbourne debut! Flat forehand by Stephens drifts wide and Raducanu leads 15-0. However, the British player hits back with a big forehand down the line for the winner.

Second match point for Raducanu when Stephens flies a her backhand wide. This is aggressive tennis by Raducanu and she finished a sublime forehand. Game, set and match for Raducanu.

The British player books her place in the second round at Eastbourne.

02:18 PM BST

Raducanu* 6-4 5-0 Stephens

What a gear shift from 4-4 in the first set. Raducanu on a run of five straight games and three straight breaks of the Stephens serve. Also now up to 75 per cent first serves in, during set 2.

02:17 PM BST

Raducanu 6-4 4-0 Stephens*

Raducanu shows no signs of letting up! She wins the first point with a powerful forehand down the line – then another dominating point from Raducanu follows and an elegant backhand across the court is too much for Stephens.

The Briton seals the game by producing a sublime backhand down the line – right now, Stephens has no answer.

02:13 PM BST

Raducanu* 6-4 3-0 Stephens

The Briton wins the first point of the game with a powerful backhand down the line. However, she finds the net in the next point through and its 15 each.

A dominating point from Raducanu follows and an elegant down the line is too much for the American and its 15-30.

A real chance for the Briton to take control of this second set – as her forehand is proving too much for Stephens and its advantage to Raducanu.

Another point for Raducanu and its 3-0.

02:10 PM BST

Raducanu 6-4 2-0 Stephens*

Early stages of the second set here – as Raducanu is looking comfortable here! She steers a forehand down the line with Raducanu going 30-15.

The Briton fires another well-time forehand down the line to seal the game – this is gusty play from Raducanu!

02:07 PM BST

Raducanu is finding her rhythm

What a finish from Raducanu there. The forehand was a liability for the first half hour, but she found her timing on it and the penultimate point of the set delivered the best shot of the set: a half-volleyed forehand winner up the line. More of that please!

02:05 PM BST

Second set: Raducanu 6-4 1-0 Stephens*

Raducanu is growing in confidence here and absorbing everything that Stephens is throwing at her!

The Briton is showing brilliant power and placement  – as Raducanu looks composed at the moment with serve, as she moves 40-15.

Now, the pressure is ramping up at Eastbourne.

01:57 PM BST

Raducanu*6-4 Stephens

The American is looking very calm and composed on her serve at the moment but Raducanu is digging in towards the business end of this first set.

Raducanu reading the American’s serve well – which gives the British player two sets points.

Raducanu is creating so many openings for herself with the power she possesses in her game. She takes the first set after the third time of asking as Stephen’s forehand goes wide.

Opening set to the Briton.

01:55 PM BST

Raducanu shows resilience

Interesting match! Raducanu struggling with her first serve – percentage dropped to barely 50 per cent for a bit – and talking a lot to coach Nick Cavaday. A few bad calls going against her, and an unlucky net cord, but she shows resilience to end a run of four straight breaks of serve.

01:48 PM BST

Raducanu 5-4 Stephens*

Shot of the day from Raducanu as she steers a forehand down the line, with Stephens going the other way 30-15.

Raducanu is struggling with her ball toss as the wind begins to pick up at Eastbourne. The American gets a look at the second serve and drills a sublime backhand return which is too strong for Raducanu, break point.

However, Raducanu with a timely first serve snuffs out another break point for Stephens – who is beginning to find her rhythm in this match.

Raducanu bangs in a first serve and the ball flies away for the ace – a brilliant hold by the British player.

01:42 PM BST

Raducanu* 4-4 Stephens

Stephens under a little bit of pressure here as she slips to 15-30. However, she gets back into the game with Raducanu’s wild forehand.

Stephens pushed a backhand long but faces two break points when a backhand is called long – the American questions it but the call stands.

Big roar of ‘come on’ by Raducanu as she wins the game.

01:38 PM BST

Raducanu 3-4 Stephens*

The American is looking very calm and composed at the moment as she moves 40-0. The American appears to have the upper hand when the rally goes beyond five shots. Her backhand is holding up well on the grass court.

01:34 PM BST

Raducanu 3-3 Stephens*

Love hold for Raducanu – still waiting for this match to come alive but as we enter the business end of the set. Surely, the tension between both players should increase.

Both players are performing solidly without taking control and dominating.

01:31 PM BST

Raducanu 2-3 Stephens*

Great hustle by both players but Stephens comes out on top. It was a brilliant return by Raducanu but Stephens races for the short ball and hits a well-time drop shot.

She doesn’t drop enough because Raducanu chases it down and flicks a backhand into the open court for a winner, 30-15.

However, Stephens’ forehand down the line is too hot for Raducanu and she breaks Raducanu for the first time.

01:19 PM BST

Raducanu* 2-2 Stephens (*denotes next server)

Raducanu continues her blistering start with two deep returns to go love-30. However, she finally loses her first point deep in the court when she nets a forehand.

At 15-30, Raducanu comes unstuck with a wild forehand and on the next point she hooks one into the net. This puts Stephens back in the ascendency, getting her powerful forehand working and striking big crosscourt winners.

The American cruises to 40-30 – with an impressive forehand to seal the game.

01:14 PM BST

Big differential on serve speeds

Classic grass-court beginning with 12 of the first 13 points going with serve. Big differential on serve speeds though. Raducanu up around 108mph and Stephens just rolling ‘em in at 92mph. Gotta feel like that will be significant down the track.

01:12 PM BST

Raducanu 2-1 Stephens* (*denotes next server)

Apologies but the BBC coverage has just begun – so we have missed the very start of this match.

Raducanu starts like a train to race to 40-0 love, the first two points with unreturnable serves. The American goes down to love by planting her backhand into the net.

01:09 PM BST

Out they come

Sloane Stephens first to a decent round of applause but nothing like the cacophony that greets Emma Raducanu at Eastbourne.

01:07 PM BST

The players are walking towards the court

Emma Raducanu is leading the way, looking down before she emerges into the court.

01:02 PM BST

TV coverage in the UK

Is on BBC Two.

01:01 PM BST

Raducanu during a practice session at Eastbourne

Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu

12:56 PM BST

Raducanu: I’ve fallen back in love with tennis

Emma Raducanu has declared she has ‘rekindled a fire inside me’ by playing in front of home crowds again as she beamed her way through her pre-tournament interviews at Eastbourne.

“I’m just really into it at the moment,” said Raducanu. “I love the sport. I love tennis. I’ve really rekindled a light and a fire inside of me. Just very happy and enjoying it a lot.

“I would say right before Nottingham it happened,” she added. “I’m just really grateful to have this feeling again because it’s something that I’ve been missing for the last few years. I haven’t felt this good about my tennis and just excited and passionate for a long, long time.”

Former US Open champion has played very few matches on home soil – just 11 at tour level. Until this season, the only time she has gained momentum on the grass was in 2021 – her first summer as a professional.

Read Simon Briggs’ piece full piece here.

Emma Raducanu – Emma Raducanu vs Sloane Stephens: Latest updates from Eastbourne
Emma Raducanu is feeling back to her best for Wimbledon - PA/George Tewkesbury

12:46 PM BST

Raducanu eyes up another deep run

By Theodore Gardner
Emma Raducanu faces up against Sloane Stephens in the round of 32 at Eastbourne.

In her last outing in Nottingham, Raducanu lost in the semi-finals to British No 1 and eventual winner Katie Boulter.

Boulter came back from a set down to triumph over the 2021 US Open champion in a combined three hours and 13 minutes.

This time out, Raducanu has history against her opponent. The last time the two faced off in Australia, Raducanu took the victory in three sets. Stephens expressed her annoyance after the match at Raducanu shouting in triumph after winning just her first point.

Stephens said: “I think she, yeah, has just a lot to learn. I was talking to someone in the locker-room, and I’m like: ‘We’ll be here when she comes down.’”

Raducanu will be hopeful that she can recreate her victory from 2022, and book herself a place in the round of 16. Stephens coming into the match on a sequence of six defeats from seven matches makes the chance of a positive outcome for Raducanu ever more likely.

Raducanu is in high spirits having recently declared that she has “rekindled a fire inside me” from playing on home soil.

She said: “I’m just really into it at the moment. I love the sport. I love tennis. I’ve really rekindled a light and a fire inside of me. Just very happy and enjoying it a lot.

“I’m just really grateful to have this feeling again because it’s something that I’ve been missing for the last few years. I haven’t felt this good about my tennis and just excited and passionate for a long, long time.”