Wimbledon | Raducanu passes first stern test with flying colours

The nation breathed a sigh of relief as 19-year old British No 1 Emma Raducanu celebrated her debut on Centre Court in front of a capacity crowd with a straight-sets win over Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck after coming into Wimbledon with concerns over her fitness.

Raducanu was presented with a tough draw, facing Van Uytvanck in the first round, as the 28-year old Belgian is a bit of a grass court expert, arriving at the All-England Club tied for the best record on grass at all levels this summer with Beatriz Haddad Maia, going 12-2 in 4 events prior to Wimbledon, and winning the titles at the ITF W100 in Surbiton and the WTA 125 in Gaiba, Italy.

She also came into the match knowing what it takes to upset a big name here, having taken down defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza in a run to the 4th-round in 2018.

Raducanu, by contrast, had spent little more than 30 minutes of competitive match play on the surface, as she was forced to retire from her opening round match in Nottingham 3 weeks ago with a rib injury, so Van Uytvanck, ranked 46 in the world and well rehearsed on grass, posed a real challenge for the Brit’s Wimbledon aspirations.

Coupled with the huge attention on the US Open champion’s home-coming against a very tricky opponent, this was a major test, but Raducanu passed it with flying colours by claiming a 6-4 6-4 victory after an hour and 41 minutes on the hallowed grass.

In the second match on Centre Court, played with the roof open after rain had earlier hampered play on the first day of The Championships, Raducanu dispelled any lingering injury fears by breaking the Belgian’s serve in the 7th game, and although Van Uytvanck broke back, the 10th seed again seized the initiative by breaking again, and then survived a tough test on her own serve to take the first set after 52 minutes.

They swapped breaks in the second, before Raducanu broke again in the 9th game, comfortably holding serve and sealing victory with a backhand volley to the delight of the packed crowd.

“Even the sun has come out to watch you play,” on-court announcer Lynne McKenzie told her in her on-court post match interview.

“It’s an incredibly special feeling to be back here at Wimbledon,” Raducanu responded with her trademark smile. “The tough times are all worth it to play on Centre Court and come through with a win.”


Alison Van Uytvanck was 12-2 in matches on grass but could not get past Emma Raducanu on Day 1 at The Championships

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

The 19-year-old had looked comfortable in the tight match, serving well and throwing herself into her groundstrokes, missing 2 break points in the opening game but then saving 3 on her own delivery as the first 2 games lasted a gruelling 17 minutes.

A couple of fizzing back-hands, coupled with a poor volley and double-fault from Van Uytvanck, gave Raducanu the first break, only for her to promptly drop serve to love before breaking again and digging in to save two more and take the opener.

She missed 6 break point opportunities in the opening game of the second, and it looked like that might cost her when Van Uytvanck played 2 of the best points of the match to break for 3-1.

Raducanu got back on serve, though, to love, and another ill-timed double-fault from the Belgian at 4-4 gifted the World No 11 the chance to serve out the match.

Having proven herself an excellent front-runner in New York, a volley deftly placed into the open court on her 2nd match point sealed the deal, prompting a leap of delight from the British No 1.

“It was an amazing experience on Centre Court,” she said later. “It was the first time I played on there.

“From the moment I walked out through those gates, I could really just feel the energy and the support and everyone was behind me from the word ‘go’.

“I just really tried to cherish every single point on there, played every point like it could have been one of my last on that court.”

Afterwards, the teenager explained her choice of attire, saying she was hoping to channel the fighting spirit of Rafael Nadal by wearing his ‘raging bull’ logo on her top.

“I think Rafa just embodies fight, that sort of energy,” she said. “That’s what I’m bringing in. In terms of energy-wise, I think that I have had a tough year, like it’s no secret.

“It is all worth it, just to go out on Centre Court and get a win like that. I definitely am very happy to be here.

“All the lessons I’ve taken from the last year will only hold me in good stead for the future.”


Emma Raducanu was happy to overcome the challenge presented by Alison Van Uytvanck to reach the second round

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Raducanu had said she was going to ‘just rock up’ at Wimbledon after her preparations were ravaged by injury, but the British teenager proved she was all business once she walked out on to Centre Court on Monday, showing steely determination and court craft.

Her impressive win made it 5 first-round wins in her 5 Grand Slam appearances, a timely reminder that even though she is 19 and was virtually unknown when she came to Wimbledon as a wild-card last year, she knows what she is doing.

“I was very pleased with the way I, sort of, adapted to everything that she threw at me,” Raducanu said. “Alison’s game is really awkward.

“She has great hands; she’ll chip one back and it will just die on the floor. Then she’ll hit one and it’s really flat and fast. You don’t really know what’s going to come at you.

“So there were definitely some tricky moments, but I held some really tough service games.”

This is Raducanu’s first year on tour as a full-time professional and she is learning on the job as she finds her way.

“When no one knows you, no one knows your game… that is something that I experienced in a positive way last summer,” she said. “Since then, I think that people have definitely watched me, and raised their level and raised their game, and played some great tennis.

“I haven’t necessarily played badly in a lot of the matches I’ve lost.”

She certainly seemed to enjoy her first taste of the Centre Court, saying she loved the energy of the venue she described as the most special in the sport.

“Big matches and big occasions are the ones that I really, sort of, get the most fired up for,” she added. “It’s definitely a different feeling. I love playing on the big stages, I really thrive on that.”

Raducanu will most certainly be on a big show court for her next match, which is against the in-form Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, who won the title in Bad Homburg on Sunday and got past Britain’s Yuriko ‘Lily’ Miyazaki, 4-6 6-1 7-6 [10-4] on Monday.

Trying to put her physical setbacks behind her, Raducanu reflected: “I think a lot of it is mental, and I definitely went out with the belief today,” she said.

“I know that I can compete with anyone on the other side of the court when I really go for it.

“I felt good out there. There were some tough moments in the second set, physically, but I told myself, ‘Push through, if you win in two sets, then you don’t have to play three’.”


Marie Bouzkova pulled off the biggest upset of the day beating Danielle Collins, the 7th seed, in 3 sets

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The latter part of Day 1 at Wimbledon was strewn with upsets in the women’s draw, with Danielle Collins, the 7th seed, the highest profile casualty after Czech Marie Bouzkova came from a set down to oust the American, 5-7 6-4 6-4, after 2 hours and 23 minutes.

Collins was let down by the 53 unforced errors she hit throughout the match that even outmatched the 45 winners she posted, while Bouzkova struck 24 winners but had just 6 miscues in a match that featured 11 breaks of serve, 6 of which came off Collins’ serve.

In the second round, Bouzkova will now play another American, Ann Li, who defeated Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti, 6-1 6-4 in their first-round match.

Kaja Juvan stunned the 23rd seed, Beatriz Haddad Maia, the Slovenian winning 6-4 4-6 6-2 in an hour and 56 minutes against the Brazilian who has now lost 2 matches in a row after initially having gone on a 12-match winning run on grass, winning back-to-back titles in Nottingham and Birmingham.

Juvan won 83% of her first-serve points, against Haddad Maia’s 68%, and lost her serve just once, in the second set, but converted 3 breaks of serve on the Brazilian’s serve.

The latter had 22 winners in the match, 3 more than Juvan’s 19, but she also finished with 34 unforced errors, 9 more than the Slovenian’s 25.

Next up for Juvan is Hungarian Dalma Galfi, who beat Australian qualifier, Maddison Inglis, 5-7 6-3 6-4.

The Italian derby between 22nd seed Martina Trevisan and Elisabetta Cocciaretto saw the latter post an upset in 67 minutes, prevailing 6-2 6-0, and Cocciaretto will now play Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, who won against Georgian Ekaterine Gorgodze, 6-4 6-1.

Kaia Kanepi, the No 31 seed from Estonia, was upset by France’s Diane Parry, 6-4 6-4, who moves Japanese qualifier Mai Hontama, a beneficiary of the retirement of Denmarks Clara Tauson at 4-1 down.

Meanwhile, former World No 1 and 2016 Wimbledon champion, Angelique Kerber reached the 2nd-round with a 6-0 7-5 win over France’s Kristina Mladenovic in 64 minutes and the German will now play Poland’s Magda Linette, a 6-4 6-1 winner over Mexican qualifier, Fernanda Contreras Gomez.


Emma Raducanu relished her first experience on the Centre Court

© Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

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