Emma Raducanu laid her fitness concerns to rest and convincingly won her opening match at the Australian Open on Monday in Melbourne, beating Tamara Korpatsch, 6-3 6-2, to set up a 2nd-round encounter with Coco Gauff, the 7th seeded American 18-year old.
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to this match. I'm very up for it. Coco [Gauff] has obviously done a lot of great things and she's playing well. I'm just looking forward to the matchup. I think we're both good, young players, we're both coming through. Yeah, part of the next generation of tennis really. Yeah, it's going to be a great match. Emma Raducanu
Despite being some 18 months older, Raducanu is still feeling her way on the WTA Tour, while Gauff is somewhat of a veteran, having already played for three-and-a-half years on the main tour, climbing into the top 10, and establishing the sort of solid base her next opponent is still seeking.
Raducanu had her left ankle strapped as a precautionary measure when she stepped onto the 1573 Arena to take on Korpatsch, and struck the ball fearlessly at the lines to dominate the 27-year old German from the outset.
Little separated the two in terms of ranking, with Raducanu at No 77 and Korpatsch a spot ahead at 76, but the Briton sensationally won the US Open in 2021 while the German, who was without a win at the Grand Slams in three previous attempts and was making her Australian Open debut, lacked sufficient weapons to trouble her for any length of time.
They had met before, in Stuttgart in 2022, when Raducanu needed 3 sets to get past Korpatsch, and she admitted ahead of this contest that she had found it difficult to handle the German’s unusual game style.
“I think it’s good to have that experience against a player,” she said. “You kind of have a better idea. She’s an awkward player.
“I think in the conditions today, like, the balls are quite heavy here, and it would like slow it down. That, I think, favoured her, but, yeah, she’s tricky.
“Like, sometimes she will hit high, sometimes nothing, sometimes she’ll shank it but it would be really effective. It was tough. I had to stay on my feet, on my toes.”
Raducanu played some solid tennis, and broke her opponent 6 times during the match, winning 67% of her first serve points.
She also moved well, and stepped into her shots on both the forehand and backhand wings, particularly when targeting the Korpatsch second serve, resulting in the German winning just 20 percent of those points as she struggled to adjust to Raducanu’s front-footed play, especially in the shorter exchanges.
Korpatsch was able to break a couple of times early on, however, when Raducanu showed some brief signs of hesitancy, but the match turned when the British No 1 shook off a forehand error at 3-3 in the first set and then won 6 games in a row to take total control, sealing an impressive opening win in 85 minutes.
“I think, I don’t know, I actually think I played better, like, for patches, than in Stuttgart,” said Raducanu, who struck 27 winners to Korpatsch’s 10 on Monday. “But, yeah, I’m just happy with the way I kind of handled myself today in the matches.
“Like, there were points where I wasn’t necessarily playing the best, but I was good, mentally, to carry on going.”
Sturdy groundstrokes reminiscent of her run to the US Open title also helped her through.
“I think that my forehand is a real weapon of mine,” Raducanu told the press, after her win. “It’s going to take some fine-tuning, but going forward I really see myself loving that side, and I really do.
“I think, just at the moment, I’m swinging more freely in general, and yeah, it probably shows in my forehand maybe.”
This gentlest of possible draws is just what Raducanu needed to get herself off the mark, but Gauff provides a far sterner challenge.
The American needed less time to dismiss Czech World Doubles No 1 Katerina Siniakova, 6-1 6-4, as last season’s French Open finalist continued her fine form with an assured performance.
The 18-year-old has targeted a first Grand Slam win in 2023, and has opened her season with 7 straight wins, including the title at the ASB Classic in Auckland where Raducanu suffered her injury setback.
Gauff and Raducanu have never played each other before, even at junior level, and their first career meeting will headline Wednesday’s action at Melbourne Park.
“Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this match,” Raducanu said in her press conference later. “I’m very up for it.
“Coco has obviously done a lot of great things and she’s playing well. I’m just looking forward to the matchup.
“I think we’re both good, young players, we’re both coming through. Yeah, part of the next generation of tennis really. Yeah, it’s going to be a great match,” she added.
The 20-year-old also mentioned that she finds Gauff to be personable off court.
“I mean, I know her a fair bit,” Raducanu said. “Off the court, she’s really nice and friendly, and really down-to-earth. Yeah, she’s cool.
After opening win over Siniakova, Gauff said the pressure she was under as an up-and-coming American paled in comparison to that faced by Raducanu in the UK.
“Obviously she’s gone through a lot of pressure, bursting on to the scene, I feel, like, probably more than I have experienced, coming to win a Slam,” Gauff said. “And especially I feel, like, being from the UK, being like the first British person to do something in a long time, probably is a lot more pressure than what I’m used to being an American.
“You know, Serena [Williams] is retired now, but she was always the American that people looked to.”
Last year, Gauff came unstuck against Wang Qiang at the first hurdle, but 12 months on, she has grown into a noticeably more polished performer, and has arrived fresh from her 3rd career title in Auckland.
Gauff, who reached the 4th-round on her debut at Melbourne Park 3 years ago, joked that the bar the Williams sisters set was so high, she did not feel any comparison was justified at this stage.
“I feel, like, what Serena and Venus have done is still at another level,” Gauff added. “It’s very hard to, I guess, put myself in that position of feeling pressure.
“Let’s say Serena only won like two Slams, then, maybe, I would feel it a little bit more, but I think 20-something, I don’t know, is a lot.
“So I’m just starting off with one. I feel like Jess [Pegula] and I are just trying to start with one!”
Meanwhile, the only other Briton in the women’s draw, Harriet Dart, who is the British No 2, could not get past Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, the 32nd seed, and lost, 7-5 6-1, after an hour and 45 minutes out on Court 5 on Monday.