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Emma Raducanu: British teenager aiming to add Australian Open to her US Open triumph
Set to make her Australian Open debut, reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu is seeded No 17 and drawn in the bottom half with a potential showdown against her idol, Simona Halep in the third round; with a lack of recent matches a worry, how far can the British teenager go in Melbourne?
Last Updated: 18/01/22 10:18am
Emma Raducanu enters the Australian Open with dreams of achieving another Grand Slam miracle. Can the teen sensation back up her US Open triumph with victory in Melbourne?
Raducanu's history-making run at Flushing Meadows last September will never be forgotten - she won 10 straight matches to go from qualifier to US Open champion and earn a life-changing $2.5million.
But life since that sensational night in New York has changed immeasurably for the teenager from Kent, with the rigours of the daily grind on the WTA Tour taking over her life.
It hasn't been easy for the 19-year-old, who this time last year was tweeting about her A Levels.
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"When it's a job, it's not a thrill to turn up every day. For her, going onto the court every single day, is at times going to feel like work"
Andrew Castle talks life on the Tour
Since ending Britain's 44-year wait for a women's Grand Slam winner, Raducanu has split from coach Andrew Richardson, savoured a first victory on the WTA Tour, hired Angelique Kerber's former coach Torben Beltz, tested positive for Covid-19 and been voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2021.
All this in the space of just four months!
Raducanu crashed to a heavy defeat at the Sydney International in her first match since recovering from coronavirus, falling 6-0 6-1 to Kazakhstan's world No 13 Elena Rybakina.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, former British No 1 Andrew Castle said her "difficult preparation" for the Australian Open was always likely to happen.
He said: "What we saw at the US Open last year was so phenomenal, to go from schoolgirl to Grand Slam champion without losing a set. She didn't beat any top-10 players there, but she beat everybody in front of her in straight sets.
"I'm not going to say it was an aberration, but it was one of those things where it's almost like her career has gone into a reverse now. She has achieved the great thing that everybody aims for, but now she has to build again because life on the Tour day in, day out is very different.
"It's a grind, you have to get used to it and the other players get used to you a little bit. When it's a job, it's not a thrill to turn up every day. For her, going onto the court every single day, is at times going to feel like work."
Raducanu is getting set to make her debut at the Australian Open in what will be just her third appearance at any Grand Slam tournament. She began 2021 ranked 345th, rose to 179th in July by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon on her Grand Slam debut and arrived at the US Open ranked 150th. Raducanu left New York at No 23 after winning all 20 sets she played across 10 victories en route to the title. Now up to No 18, can Raducanu make more history in Melbourne?
Raducanu's remarkable rise
Tough opening test
A first Grand Slam match since winning in the US pits her against 2017 New York champion Sloane Stephens in Melbourne.
Stephens, who recently wed footballer Jozy Altidore, has slipped to 68 in the rankings but at her best is a formidable opponent and reached the semi-finals in Melbourne nine years ago.
The American's last victory on the Tour came against Raducanu's compatriot Heather Watson in Indian Wells and she hasn't played at all since defeating Russian Liudmila Samsonova at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November.
Stephens has lost in the first round of the Australian Open in her past two appearances, but she usually rises to the occasion in the big matches, beating Petra Kvitova, Madison Keys, Coco Gauff and Karolina Pliskova at the Grand Slams last season.
"I watched Sloane win the US Open. I hit with her last year actually. Obviously, you don't win a Grand Slam without being very capable. I think it's going to be a tough match for sure. I'm going to go out there and enjoy the match because, just playing in this Grand Slam, I had to work so hard to be here."
Emma Raducanu on Sloane Stephens
"She's building at the moment and I think the draw against Sloane Stephens is absolutely fascinating. Stephens, even though she's a Grand Slam champion, would almost be considered an underachiever for her talent," said Castle, who reached the 1988 men's doubles semi-finals in Melbourne alongside Roberto Saad.
"She's wonderfully gifted and it's almost great news that she's playing a great name, although unseeded, in the first round for Emma. I wish her luck this year, but stay patient because she's utterly brilliant."
Idol Halep awaits
Raducanu will hope to rediscover her form on the outdoor hardcourts which brought her great success in New York. She will feel at home on the Plexicushion surface in Melbourne, which is medium paced with lower bounce and less spin compared to the US Open.
Should she come through against Stephens the 19-year-old will go up against world No 99 Danka Kovinic or a qualifier in the second round before a potential showdown against her idol Simona Halep in the third round.
Former world No 1 Halep has already been singing the praises of Raducanu, claiming the US Open champion will eventually become one of the best players in the world.
They had been due to meet in the semi-finals of the Transylvania Open last year, but the Brit exited at the quarter-final stage in the country of her father's birth.
It doesn't get any easier...
Should Raducanu navigate her way past Halep, then two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza could be lying in wait.
The 2020 Australian Open finalist has enjoyed a career renaissance since joining forces with the legendary Conchita Martinez. The Spaniard won the year-end 2021 WTA Finals, finishing the season at No 3 in the rankings.
Rybakina could be next in line for the British No 1 in the quarter-finals, having already drubbed her for the loss of just one game in Sydney. Estonian big-hitter Anett Kontaveit is another potential last-eight opponent.
Looking even further, and former French Open champion Iga Swiatek or Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka could go up against Raducanu in the semi-finals.
And if she was to make it back-to-back Grand Slam titles, then how about a clash against world No 1 Ashleigh Barty or defending champion Naomi Osaka on Saturday, January 29? It's certainly a date to keep in your diaries.