By Jane Voigt, Tennis With An Accent
Nineteen-year-old British sensation Emma Raducanu smashed and grabbed her debut set Tuesday at The Australian Open, racing to a 6-0 lead against American Sloane Stephens in all of 17 minutes. The rest of the match between these two U.S. Open champions didn’t resemble that thrashing. It extended three sets to just under two hours. Nonetheless, Raducanu triumphed, 6-0, 2-6, 6-1.
Seeded No. 17, she thanked fans for “staying so late.” She came through a “great champion [Stephens] like that,” she said in Rod Laver Arena.
Gasping for air as the interview went on, Raducanu said she had “anticipated long rallies, considering Stephens’ athleticism,” adding, “The score didn’t reflect” the match.
Although both women were short on warm-up matches heading into Melbourne, Stephens looked bedraggled as set one zipped by. She married footballer Jozy Altidore in Florida on New Year’s Day, perhaps leaving her below the level of mental focus necessary to play in a major. Nonetheless, the American demonstrated her brilliant ball-striking skills and athleticism in set two, when she broke Raducanu twice and watched the Brit lose the opening game of that set with a double fault on the fifth break point.
Raducanu, though, held off five of eight break point attempts from Stephens, a saving grace for her victory. Additionally, Raducanu converted six of eight break point opportunities. Against a formidable foe such as Stephens, these stats reinforced the potential of the young tennis star.
In her second-round match, Raducanu will meet Danka Kovinic, currently ranked 99. Nagged by injuries, the native of Montenegro resurrected her powerful game at the Charleston Open in 2021, making the quarterfinals by beating No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova in the round of 16 for the third top-10 victory of her career. Kovinic also beat Yulia Putintseva and Ons Jabeur to reach her first WTA 500 final, where she lost to Veronika Kudermetova.
If set one of today’s match was any indication of potential for Raducanu, Kovinic should be on a practice court now. The Brit dropped only four points in that set against Stephens.
Raducanu recently hired veteran coach Torben Beltz. However, their coaching relationship was put on hold when she was sidelined for three weeks with COVID. Considering the possibility of lingering viral side effects, Raducanu’s win, which featured long rallies that covered every corner of Rod Laver Arena’s court, should be a source of encouragement for her. She held up well in a three-set fight.