As the sun set at Melbourne Park on Tuesday evening and the three-day opening round began, Emma Raducanu marked her return to Grand Slam competition with a strong performance and a priceless victory as she convincingly defeated Shelby Rogers – 6-3. 6-2 to reach the second round.
After an eight-month break following surgery on both hands and an ankle in April, Raducanu’s first Grand Slam victory in 12 months marked another positive step forward as she looks to re-establish herself among the world’s best players. This is Raducanu’s second win on her comeback after returning to competition in Auckland in the first week of January.
“I’m very happy that I got through it,” said Raducanu. “I think it’s my first Slam match back, so that’s definitely a little sweeter.”
Since the momentous first meeting between Raducanu and Rogers at the 2021 US Open, which set up Rogers with a career-best win over then world No. 1 Ash Barty, before Raducanu defeated Rogers 6-2 en route to the US Open, Defeated titles 6-1, so much has changed for both players. While Raducanu was out eight months due to her surgeries, Rogers also underwent surgery last summer and the American had not played since Wimbledon.
Raducanu’s appearance at the Australian Open was initially surrounded by question marks after she withdrew from her scheduled pre-tournament appearances, but by the end of the week her numerous intense training sessions and high praise from players who trained with her underlined that she was was ready.
From the start of this game, Raducanu tried to control the rallies by pushing herself to the baseline, receiving the ball early while effortlessly changing direction with both her forehand and backhand without any problems. After calming herself down with two close serves, Raducanu began reading Rogers’ serve, landing numerous returns and working her way to the baseline. She got the decisive break of the set with an excellent return game, which she underpinned with good serves until the end of the set.
With the first set secured, Raducanu opened her shoulders and played freely, breaking Rogers’ serve in the opening game of the second set and maintaining her momentum until the end. Aside from her clean, early ball strikes, Raducanu moved well, she slipped on well-timed drop shots and her serve was reliable in crucial moments.
After Raducanu capped off a solid, unspectacular performance with a final forehand winner, he celebrated with just a small, unobtrusive punch. She then devoted a lot of time to signing autographs on the court and presented a towel to a fan, Mark, who had been there throughout her US Open run in 2021.
Raducanu then said that the experience she has gained in first-round matches over the past few years has taught her to adopt a more balanced approach.
“I realized that the difference between potentially losing in the first round and doing really well in a tournament is honestly very, very small,” she said. “It’s just the way I move, the way I do things physically. I think it just shouldn’t be that drastic, I would say, because I know it’s not that far away and I know the more I practice consistently, it will come up.”
A year ago, Raducanu won her first round match at the same venue – 1573 Arena. When asked how different she felt over the past 12 months, she revealed that in addition to the ankle sprain she suffered last year, she also had a “huge cyst” removed from her foot.
“I think this year and now there is just a lot more calm,” said Raducanu. “I think I’m more level-headed. I think things around me have calmed down. I feel better and there are just fewer ups and downs, I would say. It’s just more of a balance.”
Raducanu pointed to her current team setup, particularly her new partnership with Nick Cavaday, one of her childhood coaches, as an example of the calm that surrounds her. “I just think I’m doing things the way I really like it – just the people around me, I think it’s pretty quiet now,” she said.
“It’s nice to be with Nick. I have known him since I was a child and feel very comfortable there. I just feel like all aspects of my life are calming down and settling down. When you come back after eight months and have had three operations, you are of course really grateful to be able to move freely.”
Having drawn one of the few players in the draw with even less match practice and more rust than herself, this was undoubtedly a helpful draw for Raducanu, allowing her to get back into top-flight competition. Even tougher tests lie ahead, starting with a second-round meeting with Wang Yafan of China on Thursday. Earlier on Tuesday, world number 97 defeated Sorana Cirstea 0-6, 7-5, 6-2.