It was a three-set, three-hour marathon with a distinct trilogy of chapters. The ending was cruel, as Emma Raducanu battled a stomach bug and fought to stop herself from throwing up on court in a gruelling 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 defeat to China’s Yafan Wang at the Australian Open. After feeling “weak” and “nauseous”, Raducanu faded at the start of the third but showed grit to battle back when others may have quit. Playing in just her fourth match after eight months out, Raducanu was encouraged by what she showed, rueful that she was struck by illness ahead of her second-round match, and hopeful it was only a “one-off”.
As chapter one unfolded, Raducanu struggled with the wind and her opponent Wang adjusted to the challenging conditions; the middle set saw Radacanu settle and raise her game to an impressive level; it was only at the end that Raducanu felt sick and suffered. Each set told its own story: one of inexperience, the other perhaps a more accurate glimpse of her thrilling game, the final one a familiar tale of woe between Raducanu and her body that has disrupted her young career.
Raducanu, though, insisted her issues were not physical. The details were reassuring, even if she revealed a little too much information: “Physically, body-wise, I felt fine,” Raducanu said later. “It was more I was throwing up in my mouth. Then, after the match, it came out. Now I’m OK. I’ll get over it. It just sucks with the timing. I was actually feeling good about my tennis.”
The highs of the second set were promising and a reminder that Raducanu can be so destructive on both forehand and backhand sides when her groundstrokes find their rhythm. Even when on pressure points, Radacanu flashed an impressive array of winners past the determined defence of Wang, finding angles and pace from the baseline to turn the match around. She is a captivating force when on form.
Yet it did not last and Raducanu knows what is needed next. While she is 21 and already a grand slam champion, Raducanu requires a consistent run of matches on tour, across multiple events and surfaces. Her relative lack of experience was apparent in the opening set, as a challenging breeze swept across the court and affected every rally. Wang did a better job of coping with the gusts, adjusting her game to simply focus on keeping the ball in play, while Raducanu tried to maintain her aggressive approach even as the errors mounted.
Raducanu identified a solution and pointed to her time away from the court: “I think that tidying up some of the areas, tidying up a bit of technique and things, also just getting used to playing matches outdoors,” she said. “I think she handled it a lot better, the wind. She jumbled me. She moon-balled me. She gave me a lot of these scrappy little shots but it worked. I need to spend more time on tour, spend more time training, and putting good weeks together.”
There will be a sense of frustration that Raducanu was not able to perform as well in the opening set or carry it through to the third. After showing a glimpse of a good level, she will not be able to take advantage of what was turning out to be an open section of the draw in Melbourne, with last year’s runner-up Elena Rybakina and fifth seed Jessica Pegula knocked out before the third round.
But Raducanu had arrived at the Australian Open with perspective having sat out the majority of last season due to surgeries on both hands and an ankle. The positive, she said, was that she has been able to return to tennis and play without pain. “I’m very happy with how my body is,” she said. “I think the wrist in particular was something that I struggled with. Now I feel good. Ankle feels good. I think if I keep my work consistent, I have a good shot.”
The goal now is to build on her trip down under and continue the work she has put in with new coach Nick Cavaday, before setting out on a consistent schedule. “I’m feeling very positive,” she said. “I really just want to play a full season. The encouraging thing is, even though I played two back-to-back three-setters in Auckland, a three-setter today, body-wise, strength-wise, I didn’t come up with any random niggles. It was just me throwing up.”
Cameron Norrie the last Brit standing as top seeds tumble on dramatic day
By Eleanor Crooks
Cameron Norrie staged a superb comeback in difficult conditions to beat Giulio Zeppieri, but Jack Draper and Katie Boulter joined Raducanu in crashing out of the Australian Open.
Norrie battled to a 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory to set up a clash with 11th seed Casper Ruud but is the last British player left in the draw ahead of the third round.
Both Draper and Boulter found themselves up against highly ranked opponents and were unable to cause upsets, with Draper losing 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to 14th seed Tommy Paul, while Boulter was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by 12th seed Zheng Qinwen.
Draper was particularly frustrated, having beaten American Paul in both their previous meetings, including last week in Adelaide.
But, although he pulled up well physically from his dramatic first-round match, in which he ended up vomiting into a bin, the 22-year-old was unable to find his best tennis.
Meanwhile, an emotional Iga Swiatek survived a major scare but Elena Rybakina was beaten by Anna Blinkova in a record-breaking encounter.
Swiatek lost to Danielle Collins in the semi-finals in Melbourne two years ago and it appeared history was about to repeat itself when the American took a 4-1 lead over the world No 1 in the deciding set under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.
But Swiatek responded with five games in a row to claim a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory and set up a clash with Czech teenager Linda Noskova. The Pole sobbed into her towel at the end of the match and she said with a relieved smile: “I was at the airport already.”
Rybakina, the third seed and last year’s beaten finalist, also appeared as if she might escape after saving two match points to force a tie-break against 57th-ranked Blinkova.
But, more than half an hour later, Blinkova finally clinched a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (22/20) victory on her 10th match point, with Rybakina having seen six opportunities go begging. It was the longest tie-break in a singles match in grand slam history.
On a day of high drama at Melbourne Park, fifth seed Jessica Pegula was also ousted, going down 6-4, 6-2 to France’s Clara Burel, while former finalist Sloane Stephens beat 14th seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
In the men’s draw, Carlos Alcaraz came through a tough four-set battle with Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego on a day of close encounters for the big names.
Novak Djokovic’s struggles will have given heart to his rivals but few are finding the early stages of the tournament straightforward, and second seed Alcaraz needed three hours and 25 minutes to defeat Sonego 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-6 (3).
“I think probably I could do something else in the tie-break,” said the Spaniard. “But the level that he played, it was really, really high.”
Sixth seed Alexander Zverev and 11th seed Casper Ruud both needed fifth-set tie-breaks to edge into round three.
Zverev looked in deep trouble down two sets to one against Slovakian qualifier Lukas Klein before recovering to win 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (10-7).
Ruud was given a huge battle by Australian Max Purcell, who twice fought back from a set down to force a decider before the Norwegian prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (10-7).