Over the course of her first full season as a full-time professional on the WTA tour, Emma Raducanu will come to experience all too much frustration and disappointment as she adjusts to life on the road. In Sydney, in her opening tournament of the season, Raducanu endured her first experience of such emotions as she was dismantled 6-0, 6-1 by Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in 55 minutes.
Afterwards, while Raducanu swiftly complimented her opponent, she explained her expectations had been low. She was still only just finding her way back after testing positive for Covid in December. She said she had not played for 21 days in total since then and had only just started to play points. She had already withdrawn from what should have been her first tournament of the year in Melbourne.
“It’s tough but it’s good because I’m very proud and happy that I put myself out there,” she said. “I could have easily said it’s too soon and just play next week, but I wanted to really test where I’m at and obviously give myself some competitive points and matches. I think this will help put me in a better place for next week.”
Regardless, Rybakina is one of the most talented young players on the WTA and she possesses a destructive game. Also, she arrived in Sydney having reached the final in Adelaide last week, losing to Ashleigh Barty. She was ready and she simply dominated, lasering winners from all parts of the court.
Raducanu has played very few players with the shotmaking ability of the Kazakh. Her sheer pace, weight and depth continually rushed the 19-year-old, who contributed to the one-sided scoreline by struggling with her serve.
Rybakina thundered through the first nine games of the match and it was only when Raducanu was trailing 6-0, 3-0 that she finally clinched her first game, forcing a backhand error from Rybakina with some defence on game point. With a game finally on the board, Raducanu pumped her fist and smiled towards her supporters and her team. “I simply wasn’t going to lose love and love,” she said. “So that was my motivation.”
No more games would come Raducanu’s way, but she picked up her bags and looked to see how she could improve. “After the match I got a box of balls and went straight to the practice court. I felt like I could have done some things better in the match, and I wanted to try and fix it straight away, just leave with a better feeling about it. So, yeah, we went on court.”
In her first match of the season Raducanu lost, badly, but she finished her obligations with a smile on her face. “Yeah, I was just fighting,” she said. “At the end of the day I just want to keep putting myself out there. Even if I keep getting knocked down and it’s just about getting back up and basically just falling in front. You’re one step better. You learn more.”
In the first match of the night session in Sydney, Andy Murray won his first match of the season to move into the second round with a brisk 6-3, 6-1 win over Viktor Durasovic. Murray will next face Nikoloz Basilashvili, who he defeated at Wimbledon last year.
While Murray did not catch Covid in the off-season, and was one of the few players who travelled to Abu Dhabi not to do so, he said his time off was also disrupted anyway as he caught a “bad cold” and didn’t train for 10 days.
But Murray is now in Sydney with his new coach, Jan de Witt, and as he discussed their arrangement, he made his ambitions clear. “Obviously what both of us want is results,” he said. “I don’t know obviously how long I’ll be able to compete for. I know that injuries can happen at this stage in your career and having been through what I have been through the last few years, so, you know, I want sort of instant results.”