Nottingham | Raducanu successfully returns to grass

Emma Raducanu played her first match on grass in 2 years, and rolled to a 6-1 6-4 win over Japan’s Ena Shibahara in the 1st-round of the Rothesday Open in Nottingham on Wednesday, joining fellow-Brits Katie Boulter, Heather Watson and Fran Jones in round 2.

All credit to Ena, she's making it very tricky on the grass courts with the serve-and-volley, and it's very tough to find a way past, but I'm pleased with how I dealt with the circumstances today. I played a really good match. At the end, I think, inevitably, if you're 6-1, 5-1 up, it could probably go wrong, so I tried to not let it get to my head. Emma Raducanu

“I’m surprised, in a way, how well I came out and played,” Raducanu said. “I didn’t really know how it would go, but my intentions were great from the start.

“It’s amazing to be playing on home turf, it’s been ages since I last played in the UK. To come here and feel like everyone is behind me is really nice, and I’m cherishing every moment.”

After skipping the French Open to prepare for the grass-court season, Raducanu converted 6 of her 8 break chances, and only faltered briefly after taking a 5-1 lead in the second set, but finished things off well enough in 70 minutes.

Currently ranked 209, Raducanu received a wild-card into the main draw, and was playing her first match on grass since Wimbledon 2022, because, this time last year, she was confined to a mobility scooter as she recuperated from multiple wrist and ankle surgeries.

She dominated Shibahara, a former World No 4 in doubles, who is shifting her focus to singles this year, and has raised her ranking over 250 places since January to its current No 274.

The Japanese came into the match with a 30-8 record this season, and her serve-and-volley tactics posed a unique challenge for Raducanu.

26-year old Shibahara, who won the mixed doubles at the French Open 2 years ago with Wesley Koolhof, frequently attempted to attack using this strategy, but was mostly outplayed by Raducanu’s quality returns.

“All credit to Ena, she’s making it very tricky on the grass courts with the serve-and-volley, and it’s very tough to find a way past, but I’m pleased with how I dealt with the circumstances today,” said Raducanu. “I played a really good match. At the end, I think, inevitably, if you’re 6-1, 5-1 up, it could probably go wrong, so I tried to not let it get to my head.”

Raducanu found a delicate lob off a drop-shop to break Shibahara in the first game of the match, and, after saving break points on her own opening service game, produced a superb pass to gain the double break for 4-1, ahead of winning the set in 31 minutes.

A 7-game streak showed Raducanu in full control, while Shibahara’s strategy was only intermittently effective against the former US Open champion’s solidity.

From 1-5 down in the second set, though, Shibahara raised her game to break Raducanu twice, with the Brit also contributing an increasing number of errors, but, at 5-4, Raducanu regained her focus, coming up with a brilliantly angled return winner en route to breaking the Japanese for the win.

“The only thing that needs some training in live situations is serving out a match, like today,” Raducanu said. “It’s not quite the same in practice, trying to replicate serving out a match.”

Emma Raducanu led 6-1, 5-1 when Ena Shibahara made a brief come-back with her serve-volley tactics

© Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for LTA

Raducanu admitted to some frustration over the line calls too, as well as a particular decision made by the Brazilian umpire, Ana Carvalho, who overruled a call after a backhand volley played by Shibahara was called ‘out’ in the 3rd game.

“I felt, like, I was playing 2 v 1, it was insane,” Raducanu said later. “A lot of the time they [calls] go both ways. Today I felt like they were all against me. It makes me feel better that I managed to beat her and the umpire at the same time. It was something I had to deal with and overcome.”

There is no Hawk-Eye challenge system available for this tournament.

“It’s not just me, Harriet [Dart] was saying the same thing, quite a few players say it,” Raducanu said. “It’s difficult when there’s no challenge. It does add to the drama for the spectators, but, for us, it can be the most frustrating thing ever.

“It happens so often, but this year I actually feel Hawk-Eye has been a little bit off, so it doesn’t really make a difference at the end of the day.”

Raducanu is in Nottingham this week with a familiar face, Jane O’Donoghue, who stepped in when coach Nick Cavaday was unable to help her grass court preparation due to illness.

O’Donoghue is a former professional player, who won 3 ITF Tour titles and made 4 appearances at Wimbledon, reaching the 2nd-round in 2004 and 2005.

After reaching a career-high of 189 in the WTA Rankings, the Brit retired from the sport and took on a coaching role at the LTA, where she first met the 2021 US Open champion.

She spent 10 years as a well-respected LTA national coach from 2009 to 2019, and was frequently working with Raducanu during that period.

The 21-year old turned to O’Donoghue earlier this year before she hired Cavaday, and they travelled to Auckland together in January.

Much like O’Donoghue, Cavaday has a long-term relationship with Raducanu, having also worked with her as a junior.

In the 2nd-round, Raducanu will bid to reach her second quarter-final of the year against Daria Snigur, after the 127th-ranked Ukrainian upset her compatriot, Marta Kostyuk, the No 2 seed, 6-3 6-3.

Snigur maintained her perfect record against Top 20 opposition to 3 wins and no losses.

A former Wimbledon junior champion, the 22-year-old from Kyiv demonstrated that her unusual flat hitting continues to make her a threat on grass in the pro ranks.

While Raducanu might be considered the favourite against Snigur, the Ukrainian should not be underestimated as she is well-used to pulling off upsets.

Last year she entered the Nottingham draw as a lucky loser and again beat the 2nd seed, downing defending champion and 2023 French Open semi-finalist Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil, 6-4 6-3, and famously, making her Grand Slam debut at the 2022 US Open as a qualifier, she beat former World No 1 Simona Halep, a title favourite.

Fran Jones pulled off an impressive upset of Caroline Dolehide, the No 8 seed, to score her first career win on grass

© Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for LTA

Meanwhile, Britain’s Fran Jones also pulled off an impressive upset, taking down 8th-seeded Caroline Dolehide from the USA, 7-6(3) 6-3, to notch up her 4th career Top 100 victory..

Wild-carded into the main draw, the 23-year-old came into Nottingham having never won a match on grass before, and showed incredible fight to stave off all 10 of the break points she faced, including 5 set points serving to force a tiebreak in the first set.

Her next battle will come against American Ashlyn Krueger, who claimed a comfortable win over Yafan Wang earlier in the day, 6-3 6-3.

Interestingly, if Jones and Raducanu win their next matches, they will play each other in the quarter-finals.

Top seed Ons Jabeur, who reached the final at Wimbledon in 2022 and 2023, opened her grass court campaign with a comfortable win over Camila Osorio on Tuesday at the Lexus Nottingham Tennis Centre

© Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for LTA

No 1 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia opened her grass court campaign with a 6-2 6-3 win over Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

“Great to be back on grass,” Jabeur said after her win. “Definitely feel happy to play here in Nottingham.

“I thought I played a good match today, and hopefully the level will be much better for the next matches. Looking forward to play more matches here in Nottingham, and I hope it’s going to be great preparation for Wimbledon.”

The World No 10 is making her debut appearance in Nottingham, and needed just 62 minutes to ease past 81st-ranked Osorio, and improve to 4-0 in their head-to-head after their first meeting on grass.

Jabeur will next take on qualifier Linda Fruhvirtova in the 2nd-round, after the 19-year old Czech dispatched Britain’s Lily Miyazaki in straight sets on Monday.

It will be the first career meeting between Jabeur and Fruhvirtova, who cracked the Top 50 a year ago and is currently ranked 139.

Jabeur, a Wimbledon finalist in 2022 and 2023, exhibited her grass-court acumen right from the start on Tuesday, breezing through her service games in the first set, and dropping only a single point on her delivery.

Osorio made things more complicated in the second, where she garnered 2 break points in Jabeur’s opening game, but the Tunisian used her all-court play to get past that threat, and stay on the front foot.

Jabeur took control for good at 3-3, reaching double break point after 2 consecutive double-faults by Osorio, and then converted the break by firing a backhand down the sideline to force an error from the Colombian.

The Tunisian then won the final 4 games of the match, converting her first match point after Osorio’s 5th double-fault of the day.

Jabeur, who was never broken, finished with an impressive 83% success rate behind her first serve.

Tatjana Maria saved 6 match points to deny Emiliana Arango in a Nottingham thriller, coming from 1-3 down in both the second and third sets to advance at the Rothesay Open.

© Tom Dulat/Getty Images for LTA

Elsewhere, former Wimbledon semi-finalist Tatjana Maria from German came through a 4-6 7-6(7) 7-6(6) thriller to deny another Colombian, Emiliana Arango, after 3 hours and 24 minutes, saving 6 match points in the process.

It was a match that featured plenty of old-school grass-court tennis as both players sought to get to net wherever possible, and, ultimately, the 36-year-old triumphed to set up a 2nd-round meeting with No 5 seed Magdalena Frech, after the Pole defeated Japan’s Nao Hibino, 6-1 6-4.



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