Britain’s Emma Raducanu reacts during her first round match against Sloane Stephens of the U.S. in the Australian Open on January 18, 2022. REUTERS/James Gourley
MELBOURNE— Britain’s teenage sensation Emma Raducanu cleared a dangerous first-round hurdle at the Australian Open, seeing off experienced American Sloane Stephens 6-0 2-6 6-1 in a topsy-turvy contest on Tuesday.
Raducanu, who rocketed to fame in September with a fairytale run to the U.S. Open title as a qualifier without dropping a set in what was only her fourth senior tournament, raced through the opening set in 17 minutes, leaking only four points.
But former world number three and 2017 U.S. Open champion Stephens finally found her rhythm and range to take charge of the second set from 2-2, reeling off four games as errors began creeping in to 17th seed Raducanu’s game.
It looked ominous at that point for the 19-year-old Raducanu whose build-up to her Australian Open debut had hardly been ideal, having had COVID-19 and suffering a heavy defeat in her opening match in Sydney.
But she showed the same coolness under pressure that swept her to the title in New York, settling down and finding another gear to dominate the decider with some precision baseline hitting as the Stephens game unravelled again.
Stephens avoided another rout as she held serve at 0-5 but there was not to be another twist on a sparsely-populated Margaret Court as Raducanu closed out the win on serve despite a sixth double-fault on her first match point.
It was an encouraging start for Raducanu despite the second-set wobble and she will be heavily fancied to get past 99th ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in the second round.
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