Abu Dhabi | Raducanu beats Bouzkova in opener

Britain’s Emma Raducanu is back in action at the WTA 500 Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open and, on Monday, she delivered an impressive performance after a slow start, with a 6-4 6-1 win over former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Marie Bouzkova from the Czech Republic.

I’m very patient and very grateful to enjoy what I’m doing. I’m just trying to improve my game because I’m not the finished product, far from it. I feel like now is the time to start because I’ve had some illness and injuries over the couple of years since winning the US Open, so I’m looking forward to working on my game, improving my level, and the results will take care of themselves. Emma Raducanu

Raducanu received a wild-card into the main draw after missing the last 8 months of the 2023 season, and made her come-back to the WTA Tour in January’s Aussie swing, winning a match at each of the 3 tournaments she entered.

“[Bouzkova] was a very difficult opponent,” Raducanu said afterward her late night match. “Marie is really tough to put the ball away against, she makes so many balls, so I’m really pleased to come through that.

“I took a little bit to get adjusted to the speed of her ball, and the court, and the conditions playing at night, but I’m really happy with the way I, kind of, calibrated.”

Raducanu will now attempt to make her first quarter-final of the season when, in the 2nd-round, she takes on No 2 seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, who received a bye, in what will be their first meeting in a Hologic WTA Tour match.

“She’s definitely the home favourite here, rightfully so,” Raducanu of Jabeur. “I really like Ons, she’s someone who’s, kind of, taken me under her wing as I’ve been new to the tour.

“I’m really looking forward to it because a lot of people were saying to me, ‘Oh, Ons, Ons, Ons!’ And I was like, ‘I’m playing Marie who’s ranked, like, 30 in the world, so that’s not an easy match’, but I’m really pleased to have put myself in this situation, and I’m going out with nothing to lose against her.”

Raducanu has an 0-4 career record against players who were ranked inside the Top 10 at the time of their meeting, and she will be looking for her first win against that calibre when she faces the World No 6.

The Brit had to wait until late evening to get onto court against Bouzkova, as almost all the preceding matches went the distance, and, on Monday night, she was the slower out of the blocks, dropping serve and playing catch-up for much of the opening set.

In fact, 7 of the first 9 games went to the returner, but the former US Open champion overcame the sticky start to hold serve when it mattered most, firing an unreturned forehand to close out the 5-4 game, and sealed the one-set advantage.

She then fairly romped through the second, powering past the Czech without facing a break point.

She broke Bouzkova in the Czech’s last 3 service games, and finished the encounter with 23 winners to her opponent’s 15 after 88 minutes.


Emma Raducanu says she is not the finished product yet as she continues to work on her game and fitness

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Raducanu has been reflecting about her development as a player and the challenges she has faced since winning the US Open in 2021.

She is currently ranked 296 but rose as high as No 10 in July 2022, having dealt with injuries and lacking continuity since dazzling the world with her first Grand Slam, winning the title as a qualifier and not dropping a set on the way.

Last year, she underwent surgeries on both wrists and her ankle, taking 8 months to recover, and is now showing some of the form that took her to the Top 10.

“I’m very patient and very grateful to enjoy what I’m doing,” said the 21-year old. “I’m just trying to improve my game because I’m not the finished product, far from it.

“I feel like now is the time to start because I’ve had some illness and injuries over the couple of years since winning the US Open, so I’m looking forward to working on my game, improving my level, and the results will take care of themselves.

“I’ve never really had the chance to do proper training weeks back-to-back. For six or seven months, before I ended up having the surgeries, I was only practising one or two hours a day just to limit the load on the wrists.

“In a way, it’s frustrating that the last couple of years haven’t been how I’ve wanted but I think we take a lesson from everything, and now is the time to start that work, and I’m really enjoying it,” Raducanu added.


Sorana Cirstea made a remarkable come-back to defeat Caroline Garcia in her opening match in Abu Dhabi on Monday afternoon

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Also on Day 1 in Abu Dhabi, Romania’s Sorana Cristea overcame a challenging start, where she was 1-4 down and faced 2 set points in the first set, but staged a remarkable come-back to beat France’s Caroline Garcia, 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4, after 2 hours and 40 minutes, to set up a 2nd-round contest with Maria Sakkari, the No 3 seed from Greece.

Last year’s semi-finalist Beatriz Haddad Maia, seeded 6 from Brazil, then edged past Chinese wild-card Wang Xiyu, 6-2 7-6(4), while 7th-seeded Daria Kasatkina from Russia eventually overcame another Frenchwoman, Diane Parry, 6-4 5-7 6-2, after a 2 hour 35 minute tussle.

Haddad Maia dominated the early stages and easily took the first set, but was made to work hard by the 3-time junior Grand Slam-winner in the second, which was eventually settled via a tiebreak as the Brazilian secured the win.

After Kasatkina won a tight first set, Parry rallied and fought back to claim the second, and the decider followed a similar theme to the previous two, with little separating the players, but it was the Russian whose quality ultimately shone through as she booked her place in the next round.

In a clash between two American qualifiers, Ashlyn Krueger secured a win over Bernarda Pera, 6-2 5-7 6-3, managing to close out the match after initially leading 3-0 in the second set, and commanding a 5-0 advantage in the third, and she will face Kasatkina next.

World No 5 Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan and Jabeur top the draw, followed by Sakkari, ranked 9 as the 3rd seed, and Czech Barbora Krejcikova, seeded 4th and ranked 11.

Belinda Bencic won the title last year, saving 3 match points in the final to edge past Liudmila Samsonova, but the Swiss is not defending her title as she is on maternity leave, but the Russian is seeded 8th here this week and will face Lesia Tsurenko from Ukraine in the 1st-round.


Heather Watson, who picked up solid wins in qualifying over former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and Rebeka Masarova, will meet Veronika Kudermetova in the main draw on Tuesday

www.mubadalaabudhabiopen.com

More British interest lies with Heather Watson, who picked up some solid wins in qualifying over the weekend to make it into the main draw, beating Sofia Kenin, the former Australian Open champion from the USA, 3-6 6-1 6-1, and Spain’s Rebeka Masarova, 3-6 7-6(3) 6-1.

Due to face last week’s Linz champion, Jelena Ostapenko, in the 1st-round, Watson’s opponent now will be Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, promoted to 9th seed after the Latvian withdrew from Abu Dhabi.

Nevertheless, Kudermetova can be a formidable force, although she has had only marginally more success this year than the Brit.

Watson had two 1st-round defeats in Australia, before snapping that streak with her two qualifying wins, having to come from a set down on both occasions, while Kudermetova is looking for her first back-to-back wins this season.

Although the Russian also suffered a 1st-round loss in Melbourne, on paper, Kudermetova should walk this, but Watson now has not only got used to the conditions but also has confidence, especially after bouncing out a former major champion in Kenin.


The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council is taking place at Zayed Sports City in the UAE this week

www.mubadalaabudhabiopen.com

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