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Raducanu wins first set to love in 17 minutes
Stephens fights back with three breaks to take second set
Double break in third set earns Raducanu 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 victory
Some people are made for the big time, and Emma Raducanu is clearly among them. Her seven-month professional career has been a game of two halves: ropey on the regular tour, but magic at the majors.
Thanks to Tuesday’s thrilling victory over Sloane Stephens, Raducanu’s record in the four grand-slam events now stands at 11 wins to just a single defeat. And even that one loss was atypical, as she had to leave the court against Alja Tomljanovic at Wimbledon because of breathing difficulties.
This latest outing turned into a draining battle between two women who cover the court with extraordinary poise and balance. In both cases, their movement is their greatest strength, so points often turned into a waiting game.
But even if the statistics weren’t pretty – showing a combined tally of 29 winners as against 72 unforced errors, Raducanu proved the more resilient and resourceful, eventually coming through in 1hr 45min.
Raducanu’s sense of relief was obvious when Stephens hit the final ball into the net, completing the eccentric 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 scoreline. She dropped her racket and covered her face with her hands, almost as if she had won another title.
“I think it was just a sense of pride,” Raducanu said later. “I had some adversity with having Covid so I was just so proud to turn it around so fast. I think of my level last week - just seven days ago - and it was not good before the match in Sydney. And today I was actually pretty pleased with it so I was very happy.”
Amazingly, Tuesday’s outing represented only the second time – after September’s US Open final – that Raducanu had played a night match. Thanks to her tender years – she only turned 19 in November - these new-girl-on-the-block statistics keep cropping up at every turn.
This was also the first time she had contested a deciding set in any of those 12 grand-slam contests. And it wasn’t silky tennis that carried her through; more the bloody-mindedness of a sporting warrior. No sooner had the players returned from their simultaneous bathroom breaks, at the start of that pivotal passage, than Raducanu moved into dogged mode: thou shall not pass me at the net.
No-one who watched Raducanu scorch through the US Open draw would suggest that she is in the same sort of form here. Her off-season was badly disrupted, and she had barely spent any time on the training court when she arrived in Australia.
Her only competitive match in the build-up to this event saw her take a savage beating from Elena Rybakina in Sydney – a 6-0, 6-1 defeat that left her record in regular WTA events standing at two wins from eight attempts. Again, this underlines how much she switches the power on for the primetime events.
After a lead-in like that, no-one knew whether Raducanu would be ready for this contest or not. So the fact that she burst out of the blocks so quickly on Tuesday showed what a natural born competitor she is.
On the very first point, she banged down a first serve, fired a forehand winner up the line, and screamed a “Come on!” at herself. The shout served as an early territorial marker, designed to let Stephens know she was in for a battle.
Although Raducanu went on to claim the first set in just 16 minutes, dropping only four points along the way, Stephens was bound to find her own rhythm at some stage. The momentum switched with a hard-earned break of Raducanu’s serve in the very next game. And for a while thereafter, it was all Stephens.
The world No68 delivered the greater weight and variety of shot, one moment making the crowd gasp with the pace of her flat forehand drives, the next looping the ball so that it bounced up chest-high. So you had to admire the way Raducanu stabilised and eventually wrested back the initiative, relying on sheer willpower as well as the occasional lucky net-cord.
The final point of the match was typical, in that Raducanu couldn’t find a hole in Stephens’s slick defence. So she took an option she hadn’t attempted all match: a diagonal backhand drop shot, which understandably surprised Stephens and left her flat-footed, bunting her retrieval effort into the net. It was a brave and creative solution.
“Sloane is a great champion,” Raducanu said later. “Her defensive skills were pretty inspiring actually for me to try and replicate myself later on. Some of those shots she was getting to … I couldn't believe [when she played] her squash shot, her forehand on the run, the ball kept coming back.
Scratchy as it was from time to time, the drama of this match kept the crowd entranced. Shouts of “I love you Emma” rang out from the stands on more than one occasion, once followed by the more egalitarian “We love BOTH of you!” As the evening wore on, extra fans trickled into Margaret Court Arena, realising that this contest – which ran from 10.07pm to 11.52pm – was the last active tennis anywhere on the Melbourne Park site.
“It's way past my bedtime right now,” she said, on finally making it into the interview room at 1am. “I think that is something I'm learning about, dealing with those late finishes and the night matches and maybe not being able to get to sleep as early because of the adrenaline you're running on.”
Talk about a nice problem to have. As Raducanu prepares to face world No98 Danka Kovinic on Thursday, she has every right to feel light-headed with excitement. And so do her legion of fans.
As it happened:
Every match Emma Raducanu plays is a learning experience & getting this win should be huge for her confidence. Managed the match much better in the 3rd set, limited the errors & got into a rhythm on serve. Showed resilience & class #AusOpen #AO2022 https://t.co/xt1AGJT3of
— Uche Amako (@UcheAmako) January 18, 2022
Raducanu's next opponent
Is the 27-year-old Montenegrin Danka Kovinic who has been as high as the world No46 but has never gone further than the second round at the Australian Open or any slam tournament.
I just want to thank everyone for coming and for staying so late. I think me and Sloane put everything out there and gave it everything. It was a great match with long rallies, a tough match-up for a first round. I knew there would be long rallies and her athleticism is up there [with the very best]. I'm very happy to get through.
I was very pleased. Coming out in the first set I thought I played some very good tennis with very little unforced errors and then of course there was going to be some adversity.
In the long rallies she was just edging through with her defence. I am happy to have regrouped and in the third set I don’t think the score reflected the level out there because I was really feeling it.
Raducanu beats Stephens 6-0, 2-6, 6-1
A snorter of a backhand up the line takes Raducanu to within two points of victory and her serve, pushing Stephens very wide, earns her three match points at which pint a ball boy is asked to catch another moth that is disturbing her.
She wastes the first match point with double fault No6. Stephens grittily stays in the match with a good defensive rally to bring it down to one.
Game, set and match Raducanu, winning the best rally of the match to hold to 30, digging deep.
Raducanu* 6-0, 2-6, 5-1 Stephens (denotes next server)
Solid hold for Stephens after Raducanu tries but fails to nail two winners in Stephens ad court, both, forehand and backhand, drifting wide.
Stephens, with her tournament on the line, plays with abandon and it suits her.
Raducanu will serve for the match.
Raducanu 6-0, 2-6, 5-0 Stephens* (denotes next server)
Blimey! What a topsy-turvy match this has been. They say Raducanu is a brilliant problem solver and this is what she's done here, exploiting Stephens' backhand and only going to the forehand wing when she can do so with pace and top-spin dip. At 40-15, she double faults and then, after a good rally, dinks a forehand volley wide, her racquet-head in the wrong position, not fully closing on the shot.
Nonetheless, after that setback and a return to deuce, Stephens blunders when given a golden opportunity off a short second serve, ripping it into the met. Stephens defends game point with a withering crosscourt winner after Raducanu loses her aggression. But at deuce Stephens bunts a volley long. Raducanu had worked a miracle to get it back from deep in her ad court yet Stephens had virtually the whole court to aim for.
Raducanu does not need a second invitation and closes out the hold to move to 5-0.
Raducanu* 6-0, 2-6, 4-0 Stephens (denotes next server)
Raducanu is shrewdly targeting Stephens' backhand and the two times she tries it the backhand duly proves unreliable. At 15-30, though, Stephens gets back on to her forehand and nails one. Raducanu then exploits the forehand by giving her no time to settle to play the shot, 15-40. And she breaks again with a spiteful return off the second serve.
Raducanu 6-0, 2-6, 3-0 Stephens* (denotes next server)
The errors are creeping back into Stephens' game because Raducanu is holding her deep behind her baseline. At 15-love, however, Raducanu yells 'What?' after framing forehand. She pumps her fits after the next point, though when Stephens pulls a forehand into the net after Raducanu had battled back from corner to corner.
Raducanu's superb backhand winner takes it to 40-15 (though Raducanu was off to her seat, thinking the game was won). Back she comes, pulls a forehand wide and then pushes Stephens back, not giving her space or time to hit a booming forehand until Stephens loses her patience, takes on on when the spin and bounce was against her and forces it long.
Raducanu in the moment definitely. Hits a backhand winner and walks confidently to her chair for the changeover only to be told that, no, the game wasn't over. It's 40-15
— Christopher Clarey 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 (@christophclarey) January 18, 2022
Raducanu* 6-0, 2-6, 2-0 Stephens (denotes next server)
At the end of the first game WinViz made Raducanu the 71-29 favourite and perhaps they;re right after another excellent defensive rally allows her to move 15-30 ahead. Raducanu's misjudgment on her backhand puts Stephens level but the American then hooks a forehand into the net and plants one wide up the right tramlines from centre-court.
Raducanu breaks, built on solid defence.
Raducanu 6-0, 2-6, 1-0 Stephens* (denotes next server)
Raducanu kicks up her legs in a jog on the spot after coming back on court but after easing to 30-love, the bounce Stephens is extracting is causing problems for Raducanu who misplaces backhands to tie it up at 30-all. A punishing first serve earns her the chance of game point and a perfect defensive display followed by a backhand winner off Stephens' drop shot closes out the hold.
The players are off for a comfort break
Emma Raducanu has a problem to solve here, as Simon Reed says.
Raducanu* 6-0, 2-6 Stephens (denotes next server)
Stephens has found her touch, poise and precision and pulls away to 40-love when Raducanu fires a forehand into the net. Raducanu defends the first of three set points but not the second.
That's a hell of a turnaround, scrappy at first from Stephens but by scrapping she punched her way back into this. Raducanu will need to dig deep now.
Simon Briggs reports from Melbourne
Stephens has indeed found her game and there is a significant power differential. Perhaps it is the extra grittiness of these courts, which are not as slick at the New York courts for the US Open, but Raducanu is unable to hit through Stephens at all.
Raducanu 6-0, 2-5 Stephens* (denotes next server)
Raducanu is still very vulnerable on her second service and Stephens jumps on one to torpedo a crosscourt return winner. Diligent defensive work from Raducanu pays off to move to 40-30 but a forehand sliced into the net allows Stephens to tie it up to deuce. After a long rally when Raducanu was shoved behind her baseline, Emma fires a forehand too deep and Stephens has another break point.
Raducanu defends it with calm defence and eventually draws the backhand error after manipulating Stephens hither and thither. Stephens, though, belts a stunning return to Raducanu's feet and follows it up with a forehand winner when the Briton digs it out and she breaks for a third time with a fierce forehand winner.
Rob Smyth's old friend Maurice Mentum, 'Mo' to their friends', is on the swing again.
Raducanu* 6-0, 2-4 Stephens (denotes next server)
Jam today for Raducanu with a lucky net cord but Stephens quickly settles it back to 15-all as she cranks up the power and has Raducanu groping around her feet.
This set has been ragged, from both players, with gold nuggets amid some dross, including a crosscourt forehand winner from Stephens that caught Raducanu flat-footed to move to 30-all. At 40-30 Stephens nails a backhand winner up the line to hold her serve for the second time in the match.
Raducanu 6-0, 2-3 Stephens* (denotes next server)
Raducanu's defensive groundstrokes, patient and probing, draw errors from Stephens whenever she is oushed deep. Raducanu pumps her fist after two long rallies turn the tide from 15-30 to 40-30 despite very forceful Stephens' returns. Raducanu overhits two strokes, forehand and back, intended for Stephens' feet in her ad court and Stephens moves to advantage.
Stephens breaks Raducanu again when the Briton drives another forehand long. Two steps forward, two back.
Raducanu* 6-0, 2-2 Stephens (denotes next server)
Stephens starts slowly and falls love-30 behind as Raducanu nails her returns but she embroils Raducanu in a long rally, shifting her from side to side, forcing her to defend on her backhand and then smiting a crosscourt, volleyed winner to get back to 15-30. More cavalier forehands from Stephens allow Raducanu to earn two break points, which she can't take but at deuce, the double fault followed by a poor, loose Stephens backhand means Raducanu is level with the break-back.
Raducanu 6-0, 1-2 Stephens* (denotes next server)
A different Stephens who is making Raducanu sweat by engaging in long rallies, doing the basics, getting the serve back over and pushing her opponent from corner to corner. And yet Raducanu comes over the blip and elicits errors with strong defensive play to hold her serve to 15.
Raducanu* 6-0, 0-2 Stephens (denotes next server)
Better tactically from Stephens at the start of this set, getting her powerful forehand working and striking big crosscourt winners. Stephens cruises to a hold to 15. A couple of errors creeping in with the two double faults in the last game and a very imprecise forehand in this one.
Simon Briggs reports from Melbourne
In that set, Raducanu channelled the invincible maestro we saw at the US Open rather than the uncertain figure she has been since. She won 24 points and lost four, one of them via a double-fault. Stephens hasn't been in it so far. At this stage, she is joining the list of players who haven't found their games against Raducanu at slams. But she is capable of flicking a switch and changing things around.
Raducanu 6-0, 0-1 Stephens* (denotes next server)
There have been so many errors from Stephens who looks tentative and undercooked, it's difficult to say precisely how well Raducanu is playing. But she has been dominant.
For once, though, Stephens opens the door and there is a glimmer as a poor ball boy has to capture a couple of moths which causes a delay. A good forehand winner from Stephens, chancy but well executed, followed by a Raducanu double fault, earns Stephens two break points. Raducanu defends both with contrasting serves, wide and then down the middle that Stephens can't keep in regulation.
At deuce Stephens gets concrete boot syndrome and doesn't get sufficiently across to nail an opportunity to hit a winner, another unforced error but she fights back at advantage Raducanu by digging deep with a backhand winner at the net after a handsome rally.
A crisp crosscourt forehand seets up an overhead winner for Raducanu but she cannot take advantage and Stephens, in the match's longest game, pins her back to deuce and then Raducanu goes to the net and makes her first genuine mistake, hooking an overhead out by misjudging her contact point. Stephens fails to press home her advantage by steering a forehand across court and wide. Raducanu pumps her fist at deuce but is beaten with a lovely drop shot. Advantage SS once more.
But when it's on a plate with Raducanu stranded at the net, Stephens chips her drop shot miles beyond the baseline. Back to deuce.
A third double fault puts Stephens back in the ascendancy and Stephens devours the second serve finally to break Raducanu's serve and win her first game.
Raducanu* 6-0 Stephens (denotes next server)
This must be like a waking nightmare for Stephens whose groundstrokes are no match for Radicanu's who is killing her with backhand drops, spin and the use of the limit of the courts. At 15-40 Stephens goes for a forehand winner up the line that doesn;t even flirt with the paint. And she loses the firts set, or more accurately raducanu wins it in 17 minutes.
From being bagelled last week to bagelling another US Open champion this week.
Raducanu 5-0 Stephens* (denotes next server)
Goodness me. The contrast with Sydney last week and here is night and day and she holds her serve to love to go 5-0 up after 13 minutes.
Raducanu is marmalising her opponent.
Raducanu* 4-0 Stephens (denotes next server)
Raducanu's timing and power is causing all manner of problems for Stephens. Big booming returns are dropping the ball at her feet and proving a real test to get back over the net. Stephens adds a double fault to her dilatory start to fall 15-30 behind and then Raducanu sets up a glorious winner after the first decent rally with a crosscourt forehand pass set up by pushing Stephens wide with a wonderful backhand.
The US Open champion seals the double break with another deep forehand pass that Stephens can only frame in the right corner of her deuce court.
She's steamrolling her so far.
Raducanu 3-0 Stephens* (denotes next server)
This is something else from Raducanu. It's as if it's grand slams that bring this out of her, forcing error after error from Stephens who looks heavy on her feet. She holds her serve to 15 and Stephens hasn't got going at all.
Raducanu* 2-0 Stephens (denotes next server)
Raducanu continues her blistering start with two deep, penetrating returns to go to love-30, firing long crosscourt forehands but she finally loses her first point deep in her deuce court when she nets a forehand. At 15-30, though, Stephens comes unstuck with a wild forehand and, on the next point, by hooking one into the net. First break.
Raducanu 1-0 Stephens* (denotes next server)
Emma Radicanu starts like a train to race to 40-love, the first two points won with forcefully angled and ultimately unreturnable serves. Stephens then goes down to love by planting her baseline backhand from the ad court into the net.
Stephens has yet to remove her orange tracksuit top.
The umpire calls time on the warm up
And Raducanu towels down, getting ready to serve in a few moments.
Stephens wins the toss and elects to receive
Both players, in white, are knocking up.
Out they come
Sloane Stephens first to a decent round of applause but nothing like the cacophony that greets Emma Raducanu.
The players are walking towards the court
Raducanu is leading the way, looking down at her phone before she emerges into the arena.
TV coverage in the UK
Is on Eurosport 2, if you are able to receive it.
Which means Raducanu and Stephens will be knocking up imminently
And we can properly start our coverage.
De Minaur wins
3-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-3.
De Minaur has broken Musetti's service in the fourth set
And leads 4-3. We could be heading towards the last knockings of this match.
The match will begin ...
... roughly 15 minutes after the completion of the first-round men's match between the wonderful Italian prospect Lorenzo Musetti and Sydneysider Alex de Minaur, the No32 seed. The score currently stands at 6-3, 3-6, 0-6, 1-1.
Raducanu under the radar – the first-round preview
By Simon Briggs
Whisper it, but Emma Raducanu has arrived at today’s first-round match – which pits her against former US Open champion Sloane Stephens – without having to navigate the usual vortex of marketing, photoshoots and well-meaning advice.
Since September, when she became the first qualifier ever to win a major title, Raducanu has become a lab rat in some giant tennis experiment. The constant scrutiny has been exhausting.
Here in Melbourne, though, her presence has been drowned out by the sheer noise generated by the Novak Djokovic affair. The upshot is that, for once, she has been able to go about her business in relative privacy and comfort.
When asked about the dominant media narrative on Saturday, Raducanu expressed regret that Djokovic’s antics would overshadow Andy Murray’s final in Sydney that same night. For herself, however, she is probably quite grateful to be invisible for once.
It is not so much that Raducanu’s stock has fallen after a sequence of dicey results. You can still see a giant poster of her on the riverside walk that leads from Federation Square – the city’s central point – to the Australian Open’s courts. You can still watch the videos being released by her various commercial partners, most recently Nike.
And yet, the difference this week has been that Raducanu feels like a mere participant, rather than the face of the event – a status she has become used to at the lesser WTA stops on her calendar since her US Open breakthrough.
Yes, she has been granted the night-session match on Tuesday on Melbourne Park’s second-string stadium, the Margaret Court Arena. The is certainly a step up from her only previous appearance at this event, when she lost in the first round of the 2019 juniors to Japan’s Himari Sato, now the world No710.
But Raducanu’s floodlit prominence today is not all about her US Open miracle. It also reflects the presence of two major champions in the same match – something that cannot be said of any other first-round tie. Stephens – who married the former Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore in Miami on New Year’s Day – is also a decent draw.
Despite a mediocre ranking of No68 – which reflects her patchy work ethic rather than any shortage of talent – Stephens motivates herself for the majors and has a collection of notable scalps. It was here in Melbourne, all the way back in 2013, that she beat Serena Williams in the quarter-finals – and then followed up by complaining that a bitter Williams had unfollowed her as a result.
Never lacking in self-esteem, Stephens covers the court superbly, displaying the athleticism that made her father an NFL running back. She has no noticeable weaknesses in her game – unless you count a tendency to get down on herself when things aren’t going well.
Neither woman has had the ideal pre-season, with Raducanu contracting Covid and Stephens focusing on her nuptials. Raducanu, though, is particularly keen to extend her stay in this sunkissed country. She has already taken a shellacking in Sydney from Elena Rybakina, who allowed her only one game in the briefest of contests. A second blowout would hardly set her new partnership with coach Torben Beltz off on the right foot.
And welcome to coverage of Emma Raducanu, US Open champion and, it would seem more importantly to some, Sports Personality of the Year award winner in 2021, against the 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens. To say that Raducanu has hit every significant on-court obstacle in her path since winning at Flushing Meadows would be a little flattering given how disappointing, with mitigation owing to her lack of experience and the troubled quest for a long-term coaching relationship, the end of 2021 and beginning of this year have been, but the 19-year-old is convinced the tribulations will ultimately make her a much stronger player.
"There are still so many areas of my game that I need to develop," she told Eleanor Crooks of the Press Association on Sunday. "Playing these players who have been doing it for a long time or have more experience on the tour, they're more used to this.
"I feel like this patch of maybe losing every single week, it's a great step in my development. I think it's going to make me a stronger and better player going forward because, if I keep being shown what's wrong, then it'll kick in and I'll learn and become even better."
"One of my goals last year was to try to make it into qualifying here so to be here in the main draw I think is a great achievement," said Raducanu, who is the 17th seed and making her Australian Open debut after winning only one game in her first-round defeat in Sydney last week.
"This year I just want to enjoy every time I go out on court and look back at the end of the year and see an upward trend. I want to look back and be in a better position than I started even if I know there are going to be ups and downs.
"I feel like I could have put in a lot of good work and I had 10 days of a great pre-season, I was training five or six hours a day, doing great work, and then when I landed in Abu Dhabi to test positive [for Covid-19] was definitely a bit of a blow because I was very excited to continue with that work and feel very strong for this season.
"But I feel like it's a little bit of misfortune for all the great luck I've had the last year so I've just got to believe and keep working and start building from now."
Beltz is best known for a long association with three-time grand slam champion Angelique Kerber.
Raducanu has regularly chopped and changed coaches, including deciding not to extend a short-term arrangement with Andrew Richardson despite him guiding her to the title in New York.
The prompted much head-scratching from many pundits but Raducanu has seen positive early signs from her partnership with Beltz.
"We had a very good start," she said. "We were in London for the first 10 days and we were keen to keep going but I feel like this small bit of turbulence is definitely a good show of how we work together.
"We came out strong. He's a very happy guy, very positive and I'm very motivated to be on the court.
"For the last week we've only had the chance to gradually build up my game and the hours haven't been crazy because otherwise I'll get injured if I play too much. It hasn't been ideal but it's just been generic building up and getting ready as much as possible for my match."