Emma Raducanu has said she has no regrets about taking to the court on Thursday while injured with blisters on her right hand, despite not everyone in her team encouraging her to compete. The British teenager said she intends to use her experience and performance to strive for more success at the Australian Open and beyond, while also admitting “it’s definitely a lot of work to stay at the top”.
“Once I stepped out on the court I’d made my decision,” said Raducanu. “I had the option to withdraw before the match but after everything, the Covid, making it out here, fighting back from the loss last week, I wanted to give it all I had. I’m on the other side of the world! And I know my hand is going to recover in two days. It’s not long-term. I can build on this pretty quickly and start working on my game again.”
Raducanu was speaking after her first senior Australian Open came to an end with a three-set loss to Danka Kovinic in the second round. Raducanu suffered from blisters on her right hand and was forced to spend a large part of the match slicing forehands. Her Australian Open journey may have ended but it has been most instructive for Raducanu as her development continues.
According to Raducanu, the blisters were likely brought on by a combination of different factors, from the amount of time she spent without a racket during Covid to her inexperience with managing humidity and heat: “It’s very rare for me to be that long away from tennis so I think my hands definitely suffered from that. Then coming here you want to make up the hours but I think you need to be smart about it. Also, the humidity – I’m not experienced with why that should be, but it’s good to learn.”
Regardless, other lessons were learnt on Thursday in the process. As Raducanu sat in her chair five games into the second round of her first Australian Open, she had every reason to think her day was over. Every time she attempted to strike a serve or forehand, the blisters on her right ring finger rubbed against her racket, causing serious discomfort and pain.
Not only did she show fight and adaptability by successfully irritating Kovinic with guile instead of power, but the numerous slices she attempted off both wings were of surprisingly good quality.
In her young career, Raducanu has shown her strengths lie in her ability to hold her position on top of the baseline, taking the ball early and changing directions with ease as she attacks. But variety has been lacking in her game.
The amount of room for improvement in Raducanu’s game should be particularly exciting for her new coach, Torben Beltz. Raducanu recently said she does not actually practise her slice so there is an opportunity to work on her becoming a more complete player, utilising slices to effectively change up the pace in rallies and having drop-shots as a consistent option.
While being unable to compete at her highest level was a source of disappointment, it is no tragedy. As the tour navigates the first few weeks of the season, a great benefit of the tennis calendar is the number of opportunities over the course of a year to add wins, find form and achieve successful results. Raducanu will now have to decide whether or not to head to the Middle East in order to compete in tournaments in Doha and Dubai before the big US hard court tournaments in March.
In the meantime, some lessons have already been learned. Raducanu says that recent weeks and months have alerted her to the reality of what it takes to stay on top. “It’s definitely a lot of work to stay at the top,” she said. “When I was lower down the ranks I definitely thought that once you were in that top bracket you could stay there. But you can’t. You pretty much have to be on it every week. Be really focused, really work hard. I think I’ve put it in on this trip.”
Raducanu said she had enjoyed her time regardless. Although all of her energy was on work, including 12-hour days on site at Melbourne Park, she took some time to see the city before the tournament began. “I’ve been trying to do some steps. I got this number fixated in my head – 10,000 – because I was doing that in my room during isolation. But I stopped it before the tournament.”