Emma Raducanu’s magical Grand Slam run in New York last year was all the more remarkable because of how easy she made it look.
As she looks to repeat the feat at Wimbledon this year, the teenager is clearly aware that it will not always be as straightforward as her US Open win which saw her come through qualifying and take the title without dropping a set.
A maiden appearance on Centre Court at the All England Club did not appear to faze Raducanu, who produced her best tennis in the big moments to get the better of tricky opponent Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4 6-4.
She showed up in her post-match press conference wearing an outfit with Rafael Nadal’s logo on it, having already done so at practice earlier this week.
So while Raducanu’s only Slam success to date came at a canter, the difficult months that have followed including second-round exits at both the Australian and French Opens, have taught her that she will need to show the same spirit as the 22-time Grand Slam champion if she is to add to her Flushing Meadows crown.
She explained: “I think Rafa embodies fight and that sort of energy. That is what I’m bringing in energy-wise, I think I have had a tough year, it’s no secret. But it is all worth it to go out on Centre Court and get a win like that.
“I’m definitely very happy to be here and all the lessons I have taken from the last year will only hold me in good stead for the future.
“I definitely feel a really good energy. Like how can you not playing here? Just walking around, you really feel the positivity. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot in the last year.
“But it hasn’t necessarily all been terrible. I won my first round at every slam. As a 19-year-old, I pretty much just took my gap year and, like, I’m starting again now.”
Raducanu’s preparation had been far from perfect, forced to withdraw from her only previous grass-court appearance this season because of a side strain.
That had limited her practice time this week, with confirmation that she would play only coming on Saturday.
In Van Uytvanck, she faced an opponent who has previously knocked out the defending champion here – a win over Garbiñe Muguruza back in 2018.
And as the pair both saved break points in their opening service games, it was clear that it would not be an easy encounter.
Raducanu looked to have made the decisive move when she broke for a 4-3 lead, only for Van Uytvanck to hit straight back to love.
A run of 12 consecutive points against serve saw Raducanu take control again, serving out the set before letting six break-point opportunities slip away in the opening game of the second set.
That seemed as though it would prove costly when the Belgian opened up a 3-1 lead, but again in the money time, Raducanu stepped up in the big moments to take the second set by the same scoreline as the first and set up a second-round clash with France’s Caroline Garcia.
And despite such a disrupted build-up, Raducanu maintains the belief that she can take on anyone – an approach that has served Nadal over the past two decades.
She added: “To play on Centre Court and get a win first time is amazing. Now, every time I go back, I’m going to have a great first experience, that always helps.
“I didn’t play tennis for two weeks and then this week I’ve hit an hour a day so my preparation wasn’t necessarily the greatest. But I know that when it comes to the matches, I feel like I especially switch on and I don’t feel like I need a massive amount of preparation. Of course I do to build physically but I think a lot of it is mental and I definitely went out with a belief today and I know I can compete with anyone on the other side of the court when I really go for it.”
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