If there was a sense of the unknown as Emma Raducanu emerged on the opening morning of the Australian Open, left ankle strapped, it did not last for long. A convincing 6-3 6-2 victory over Tamara Korpatsch not only put any questions surrounding her fitness to bed, but featured some early flashes of Raducanu hitting fearlessly for the lines to suggest she has also arrived in Melbourne in a good place. It sets up a first meeting with Coco Gauff in the second-round, in what is a blockbuster clash of two teenage stars.
Raducanu will be relieved to have made it after her disrupted build-up to the first grand slam of the season, but apart from the tape around her left ankle there was little evidence of the injury the 19-year-old suffered in Auckland just 11 days ago. Raducanu’s training had been limited since rolling her ankle on the indoor courts at the ASB Classic, in what was a “freak injury”, and the only concern on the opening Monday at Melbourne Park was a slight wobble on her right ankle midway through the second set.
Gauff, the seventh seed, will offer much more of a test than what Korpatsch mustered at 1573 Arena, but Raducanu has had few wins on the grand slam stage to speak of since sensationally winning the US Open in 2021, let alone a victory that displayed such an aggressive, confident and attacking approach. Raducanu bullied the second serve of the 27-year-old Korpatsch, who was without a win at the grand slams in three previous attempts and was making her Australian Open debut, and the British No 1 finished with 27 winners.
Despite their difference in years, Raducanu played like a grand slam champion would when swiftly dismissing a more inexperienced opponent. Raducanu moved well on her left ankle and stepped into shots on both forehand and backhand sides, particularly when targeting the Korpatsch second serve. The German won just 20 percent of her second-serve points and struggled to adjust to Raducanu’s front-footed play, especially in the shorter exchanges.
The reality of Raducanu’s difficult first full year on tour meant that she came into the Australian Open unseeded, her ranking plummeting to 77 in the world following her first-round exit at the US Open last season. Korpatsch was ranked a place ahead at 76 but lacked weapons to trouble Raducanu. Korpatsch was able to break a couple of times early on as Raducanu showed some brief signs of hesitancy, but the match turned when the 19-year-old shook off a forehand error at 3-3 in the first set.
From there, Raducanu won six games in a row to take total control and an impressive opening win was sealed in 85 minutes.
Gauff and Raducanu have never played each other, even at junior level, and their first career meeting will headline Wednesday’s action at Melbourne Park.
“I think she’s a great athlete,” Raducanu said. “When she first came at Wimbledon, I think after that, it took her a little bit to adjust as well, but then she definitely found her feet. She’s playing really good tennis and looking really solid right now. She’s a great athlete with some big weapons. It’s going to be tough. I’m looking forward to the occasion.”
Gauff required less time to dismiss Katerina Siniakova 6-1 6-4, as last season’s French Open finalist continued her fine form with an assured performance. The 18-year-old has targeted a first grand slam triumph in 2023, and has opened the season with seven straight victories, including the title at the ASB Classic.
There are many similarities between Raducanu and Gauff, who both burst into the spotlight on the grand slam stage.
“I didn’t really know her that well in juniors, but I got to talk to her more on tour now,” Gauff said. “I mean, obviously she’s gone through a lot of pressure, bursting onto the scene. I feel like probably more than I have experienced coming to win a slam, and especially I feel like being from the UK, being like the first British person to do something in a long time, probably is a lot more pressure than what I’m used to being an American.”