Emma Raducanu 'fed off' Australian Open crowd in debut win; Sloane Stephens says British No 1 is 'carrying a whole country'
British No 1 Emma Raducanu won topsy-turvy Australian Open contest against Sloane Stephens to reach second round on Melbourne debut; the 17th seed will take on world No 98 Danka Kovinic on Thursday
Last Updated: 19/01/22 12:48pm
Emma Raducanu says she "fed off" the Melbourne crowd in her Australian Open debut victory over Sloane Stephens, who said the British No 1 is "carrying a whole country".
The 19-year-old Brit overcame a second-set blip to beat Stephens 6-0 2-6 6-1 on Tuesday in her first Grand Slam match since her remarkable triumph at last year's US Open.
Raducanu picked up exactly where she left off at Flushing Meadows in September, winning 20 points to Stephens' four in a first set that last just 17 minutes, but was forced to a deciding set after letting her American opponent back into the match.
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Raducanu did not drop a set in the entire US Open (including during three qualifying rounds) and also claimed all three of her victories at last year's Wimbledon in straight sets, so dealing with the disappointment of giving up the lead in a Grand Slam match was a first for her.
"I think 2022 is all about learning for me," said Raducanu, who will face world No 98 Danka Kovinic in the second round on Thursday.
"Being in those situations of winning a set and then having to fight in a decider is definitely just all accumulating into a bank of experience that I can tap into later on down the line.
"I'm very happy that today I can add to that."
'I was feeding off the crowd - we were having a good time'
Raducanu had endured a challenging build-up to the tournament, with a bout of Covid-19 last month having limited her to one warm-up match, which ended in a heavy defeat to Elena Rybakina.
That match in Sydney, in which Raducanu won just one game, and an overall record of four losses in six matches since the US Open, had tempered expectations for the 17th seed going into the tournament, but the teenager displayed no hesitance once she returned to the Grand Slam spotlight.
"It's my first win in Australia in a Grand Slam," Raducanu said. "I came here when I played the juniors and I lost first round, so to come out here and get my first win, I was very, very happy."
"I definitely wanted to go out there and start playing aggressively and start putting my game on the court.
"I felt that I was actually just really enjoying my time here, especially going out to practise earlier, I had quite a few people watching. I think that the crowd that stayed pretty late, we were having a good time. I was feeding off that, for sure."
Stephens: Raducanu is carrying a whole country
In Stephens, Raducanu was up against a fellow US Open champion, whose career has somewhat stalled since she triumphed at Flushing Meadows in 2017.
Stephens reached the final of the French Open a year later, but has failed to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since then - with her last quarter-final appearance at a major coming in 2019.
The 28-year-old American's ranking has fallen to 67, and speaking after the match, she warned Raducanu to prepare for the "ups and downs" of professional tennis.
"Because she is so young it's definitely a long road. She hasn't been through much of anything yet, so there will definitely be some ups and downs and some crazy experiences that happen throughout, it's only the beginning."
Despite offering advice, Stephens played down suggestions that there was much similarity between the career paths of herself and the Brit.
"I would say, the only same situation is that we won the U.S. Open, but our situations are very different," Stephens said. "I think she is carrying a whole country.
"And, I think her game style, how young she is, it's a little bit of a different dynamic than I had."