Impressive Raducanu shrugs off late nerves to reach US Open second round

It was not until the dying moments of Emma Raducanu’s first grand slam match on foreign soil that there was any indication of just how alien these situations still are to her. For over an hour, she played a clean and disciplined match, establishing her lead by dominating on top of the baseline. But as she served for the win, nerves flooded her.

After a long, excruciating final game, on her seventh match point she found the composure to defeat Stefanie Voegele 6-2, 6-3 to register her first US Open win. Raducanu is the first British teenager to win a match at the US Open since Laura Robson and she has moved through the three qualifiers and opening round in New York without dropping a set.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Raducanu. “I think everyone could tell that I was getting a bit shaky in match points. I got there in the end and I was so relieved. The crowd helped me so much and it feels amazing to be playing in front of fans again.”

Raducanu had originally been drawn against the 13th seed Jennifer Brady, a finalist at the Australian Open this year, but Brady withdrew on Monday and she was replaced by the Swiss lucky loser Voegele. Having initially been the underdog, Raducanu was thrust against the type of opposition she has beaten convincingly in recent weeks. Voegele’s paltry record at grand slam tournaments, 1-9 in New York and 8-31 overall, underlined the great opportunity for Raducanu.

As the favourite in an unfamiliar situation, Raducanu’s composure and focus was once again to her credit. Of all of her assets, from her athleticism to her ability to seize the baseline by taking the ball early and redirecting down the line, this was particularly an exhibition of her exceptional return of serve.

After falling down an early break at 1-2, Raducanu played an exquisite return game to impose herself in the match, rushing Voegele with consistently deep, penetrative returns. She closed off the game with a handcuffing backhand return off a 109mph first serve.

After levelling the set at 2-2, she sped through a love hold and then piled on more return pressure with relentless depth on her returns.

Raducanu ended the set with an array of spectacular shotmaking. She snatched the break point for a 4-2 lead by drilling a backhand down‑the‑line winner. At 5-2, her excellent defence emerged as she snapped an angled forehand passing shot winner at full stretch. She closed off the set by setting a 72mph second serve alight with a brutal forehand return winner.

The second set initially moved at a similar pace, with Raducanu falling down 1-2 before again elevating her return of serve to take control of the set. She took the break in an attritional, long deuce game at 4-3, with the rallies lengthening, by drilling a crosscourt backhand winner.

In the lengthy game that closed off the encounter, Raducanu oscillated between match points and break points, tentatively missing opportunities then recovering spectacularly. Those recoveries included, out of nowhere, her first forehand dropshot winner of the match while down break point and then a spectacular backhand overhead winner. After seven match points, she clinched the win.

As impressive as Raducanu’s headline-stealing run to the Wimbledon fourth round was, her ability has truly been reflected in how she has sustained her form throughout the summer. She has so quickly followed up her first taste of success with such consistent results.

In her fourth successive week of competition, including the biggest final of her career in Chicago two weeks ago, she is now 15-4 (79%) since Wimbledon. She has played 15 matches in August alone and any physical or mental tiredness would be understandable. Instead, she was clear: “I feel really good physically and I’m really confident in my game so I’m just excited to see how far I can go,” she said.

In the second round Raducanu will face Zhang Shuai of China, who defeated Hailey Baptiste of the US 6-3, 6-4. The pair played each other at the beginning of the month in San Jose, Raducanu’s first match after Wimbledon, and Zhang won in straight sets. But since then, Raducanu has played 14 matches with 12 wins. She is a different player and she will be hellbent on achieving a different result.

Elsewhere, the world No 1 Ashleigh Barty reached the second round with a 6-1, 7-6 (7) win against the 2010 US Open finalist Vera Zvonareva.

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