Auckland | Raducanu rallies past Fruhvirtova, as Gauff gets off her mark 

Britain’s Emma Raducanu made a winning start to her 2023 season with a 1st-round win at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday, beating Linda Fruhvirtova in 3 sets, while top seed Coco Gauff opened her campaign with a comfortable win over Tatiana Maria.

We’ve just been focusing on strength, cardio and just improving all round. I think, right now, because I’m still trying to find my timing and groove and my tennis, it’s a bit early to tell, but, once I settle into that, I think, the physical side will definitely have made a difference because there’s no way it can’t have. Emma Raducanu

Returning after a wrist injury, Raducanu must have felt at home in the blustery, rainy conditions, which curtailed play from time to time throughout the day.

While the British No 1 and former US Open champion dropped the first set, she prevailed against the Czech teenager, 4-6 6-4 6-2, after 2 hours 28 minutes of actual play.

“I think it’s, like, four hours later,” said Raducanu after dispatching her 17-year-old opponent. “Honestly, I don’t know what time it is anymore,

“What a battle. Linda is such a great young player and it was a different dynamic for me because usually I’m the younger one.

“Going into this match she is, and she’s going to be, up there for sure, she already is.

“Massive props to her and thank you, everyone, for sticking through with us for the four hours of rain and everything.”

Raducanu, in fact, was a set and a break down against an opponent ranked just one place lower than her in the world at No 79, but she won 4 games on the trot to change the momentum, and eventually turned things around by winning 12 of 14 games to clinch the win in a match that was rained off twice.

It was suddenly all Raducanu as the former World No 10 broke to take a 1-0 lead in the decider when they were forced off court due to rain, but she did not allow the break to disrupt her impetus, and she stormed to 5-0 on their return, finding herself serving for the match.

Fruhvirtova didn’t give up, though, and managed to get her first break of the Raducanu serve since the start of the second set to stay alive.

The 17-year Czech then saved 3 match points on her own serve before Raducanu finally closed it out after an impressive performance from the 20-year-old, who had found herself in similar positions during matches in 2022 that ultimately resulted in defeat.


Emma Raducanu seems to be settling down with her new coach Sebastian Sachs

© Phil Walter/Getty Images

It augers well for 20-year old Raducanu, who has not played a competitive match since early October because of the right wrist injury, but she has used her time off court wisely, focusing on her fitness by working with Andy Murray’s former physical trainer Jez Green.

“Jez is really good, he’s obviously so experienced, he’s worked with some of the top players, he’s been there through the journey with a lot of players who were young and then developed into top, top pros,” she told wtatennis.com. “It’s amazing to have him in my corner and helping me out.

“We’ve just been focusing on strength, cardio and just improving all round.

“I think, right now, because I’m still trying to find my timing and groove and my tennis, it’s a bit early to tell, but, once I settle into that, I think, the physical side will definitely have made a difference because there’s no way it can’t have.

“But I’m also not ignorant in thinking two months is going to solve my entire physical condition, it’s going to take more time, over a year or two to redevelop.”

Raducanu is trialling another new coach in German Sebastian Sachs, her 5th coach in the last 18 months, with the Brit having worked with DmitryTursunov and Torben Beltz in 2022, and previously with Andrew Richardson and Nigel Sears.

“For 2023 my goal is to stay healthy for longer,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working hard because I’ve got a better idea of what to expect now. So I’ll be less like a deer in the headlights.

“For a results goal, I’d say it’s to win a title, and, three, I’d say is to be playing fearless tennis. Just not thinking about consequences. Just going for it.”

Her two months off was peppered with a smattering of extraordinary events, which included a visit to Windsor Castle to receive an MBE from HRH King Charles III.

“To get my MBE and receive it from His Majesty the King, that’s pretty insane, I’m never going to forget that,” Raducanu told wtatennis.com. “But also I went straight from Windsor Castle to the National Tennis Centre, it was pretty insane.

“Like 10 am I was in a full Dior gown, with heels, at Windsor Castle, and then I changed in the car on the way to the National Tennis Centre.

“It was, like, I genuinely feel like Hannah Montana, that is how I feel. If I were to describe myself, I’d say I’m Hannah Montana.”


Viktoria Kuzmova defeated Bernarda Pera to set up a 2nd-round meeting with Emma Raducanu in Auckland

© Phil Walter/Getty Images

She was determined to put in the hard-yards to strengthen her body and build her stamina while healing the wrist injury.

“I started hitting quite late,” she admitted. “I did two months of physical, like gym work.

“Tennis, I started hitting properly again [on 9 December], so it was pretty soon, and I started playing points like literally [a few days later.]

“Quite early days on the tennis front, but I think it’s positive how I was able to put out a decent level against Ons [Jabeur in Aubu Dhabi] after not having played much at all. I think that’s pretty positive.”

Raducanu will next face Slovakian Viktoria Kuzmova, the World No 105, who was a 6-4 6-4 winner over American Bernarda Pera, the 4th seed here.

Kuzmova took advantage of her strong first serve to win key points in the tight contest, while Pera, a Croatia-born American, struggled in the windy conditions and produced 9 double-faults.

After winning the first set, Kuzmova dropped 3-0 behind in the second before reeling off 5 straight games.

She held two match points on Pera’s serve at 5-3, but the World No 44 saved them both, and the American saved two more as Kuzmova served for the match at 5-4, before the Slovakian qualifier finally clinched the match with her 9th ace.

“In this type of weather, when it’s really windy, I knew everything is possible,” Kuzmova said. “I just tried to stay positive and go for every ball and I’m very happy that I won the second set.”


Top seed Coco Gauff beat Tatjana Maria in straight sets to open her campaign in New Zealand

© Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Meanwhile, top-seeded American Coco Gauff made short work of Tatjana Maria, beating the Wimbledon semi-finalist, 6-4 6-1, to snap a five-match losing streak.

Gauff finished the year by failing to win a single match at the WTA Finals, but she is excited about starting 2023 with a clean slate, and she has made a good start in Auckland against the experienced veteran.

While Gauff was able to wear her German opponent down with her constant pressure, it was still a very up-and-down affair.

The American stormed out to a 4-0 lead, but then dropped her serve twice in a row to make it 4-4 before eventually pocketing the opening set.

The second proved less complicated, as she took an early lead and kept adding to it and, after returning to finish off the match following yet another rain delay, Gauff ended it with the loss of a single game.

35-year-old Maria is a crafty opponent, constantly mixing up her shots and finding sharp angles, which, together the two rain delays, made it hard for the World No 7 to settle into a rhythm, although Gauff’s superior power and athleticism was always going to prove too much for the German.

“I know she’s a tricky player, especially in these conditions, so I wasn’t expecting it to be an easy match and it wasn’t,” said Gauff. “I’m glad I was mentally able to stay in there.

“I try not to put too much pressure on the first match [of the year], but obviously it gives you confidence. When you win that first one it feels like almost relief because no one wants to start off losing.

Gauff seemed unfazed by the rain delays, a sign of her growing maturity: “I kind of expected it going in [on Tuesday],” she said.

“We all saw the forecast for this week. So it’s one of those things that you mentally prepare for. I think it’s worse when it’s all of a sudden.”

In other Tuesday results, Elena-Gabriela Ruse, a qualifier from Romania, outlasted Kiwi wild-card Erin Routliffe, 6-2 4-6 6-4, while Russian Ana Blinkova also had to go the distance to get past Elisabetta Cocciaretto from Italy, 6-4 4-6 6-4.



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