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Emma Raducanu defeats Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia - Emma Raducanu wasted no time announcing her presence in her first Grand Slam match since her fantastic run to last year's US Open title.

After hitting a forehand winner down the line past Sloane Stephens - the 2017 US Open champion - Raducanu shouted a loud "Come on", putting an end to the first point of the match.

From there, Raducanu was up and running and sprinted through the first set in 17 minutes with a loss of just four points. Although Stephens found his foothold in the second set and was able to extend the rallies with his foot speed and counterattack, Raducanu regained control in the final picture to close out the match 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 Tuesday night at Margaret Court Arena .

When a backhand half volley from Stephens hit the net to end the match, Raducanu lost his racket and covered her face with his hands, a reaction rarely seen from a top player after a victory in the first round. Then again, rarely has a player reached the top after jumping so many steps onto the ladder. Seed as No. 17, this is Raducanus' first appearance in the women's competition at the Australian Open, and only her third Grand Slam event overall. During last year's Australian Open, Raducanu was ranked No. 348 and chose to stay home and study for high school exams instead of traveling to Australia.

Tuesday's match, only the second night's match in Raducanu's career, was also the first time she had played a third set at a Grand Slam: Her race for the US Open title last year, which began in qualifying, involved winning 20 sets. in a row over her. 10 matches.

"I think 2022 is about learning for me," Raducanu said. “To be in those situations - to win a set and then have to fight in a decision - is definitely just to gather for an experience bank, which I can get hold of later along the line. Yes, very happy that I can add it today. "

Despite being the Grand Slam champion himself, Raducanu had never met one before Stephens.

"When Sloane fought back in the second set, I certainly accepted it," Raducanu said. "I almost expected it, because she's a champion, and you do not become one just by toppling over."

Raducanu will play his second round match on Thursday against Montenegrin Danka Kovinic, another early springboard for a player who has already shot to superstar status in his home country. Raducanus' US Open victory led her to the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award, and she was named an MBE - member of the most outstanding order in the British Empire - on the Queen's New Year's list of honors. Shortly after her triumph in New York, a message of congratulations appeared to Raducanu on Royal Mail's postmarked envelopes across the UK for four days.

Stephens, 28, admitted that while both she and Raducanu had won in Flushing Meadows, their titles did not have much in common. "We won the US Open, but our situations are very different," Stephens said. "I think she carries an entire country, and that's completely different from my victory at the US Open."

Despite her rapid success, Raducanu has received a setback from members of the British media, which has indicated that she has not focused enough on her tennis after her results dropped after an unexpected connection. In Nike's first video commercial with the 19-year-old, the company dramatized the criticism, showing Raducanu playing while phrases like "fluke" and "one-hit wonder" flashed behind her in capital letters.

For those who had wanted to make charitable assessments, there had been cause for concern: Raducanu had lost four of the six matches she had played since winning the US Open, including a brutal 6-0, 6-1 loss to Elena Rybakina last. week in Sydney.

Raducanu, whose pre-match training in Sydney had been limited by a recent case of coronavirus, said she was "very happy to have turned it around so quickly" following the violent defeat.

“The last week I have put in some amazing work,” she said. "Sydney for me was not a deal breaker. I still felt positive; I just knew where I was at the time."

Stephens, noting the "massive scream" Raducanu uttered after the first point of the match, said she could feel Raducanu's readiness to silence doubters.

"I think the hardest part is trying to prove that you're good enough to be where you are, or good enough to stay where you are," Stephens said. "The more you try to do it, I think, the more emotions show up, and the more things are probably out of character than you normally would because you try so hard to show and prove that you are this person. , or this location. "

Raducanu said she has also had to learn to deal with self-criticism.

"The biggest challenge is to be patient," Raducanu said at his pre-tournament press conference. "I am a bit of a perfectionist. Whether it's practice, whether it's off the field, I want to be the best I can all the time; sometimes it's just not very viable. ”

She added: "I just need to relax. As long as the trend is upward, just a matter of small fluctuations, I think I can be proud. Whatever the challenge, I feel a little ready to face it now."

While Raducanus' career continues to trend upward, Stephens said her performance has come in a "very backward" sequence.

"It's hard to control," Stephens said of Raducanus' unknown orbit. "But I think if you have the right people in your corner guiding you, they will know when to take breaks. They will know when to push her harder, and they will know when to is ready for it. ”

Stephens had expected to be on a break for himself during this tournament. She married her longtime boyfriend, footballer Jozy Altidore, on New Year's Day and said she was planning the wedding for January because she had "completely planned to skip" the Australian part of this season. She said she did not want to take the risk of being quarantined and having to return after the pain she felt here a year ago: While enduring the mandatory hotel quarantine before last year's Australian Open, Stephens attended her grandparents' funerals via Zoom.

"Last year I had a very traumatic experience in quarantine and I just wanted to completely get away from it," Stephens said Tuesday. "No matter what, even if it was like two days, I would not do it."

Stephens, who said she had completed a full-time off-season training, said people close to her were taken aback when she decided to take the unexpected trip Down Under.

"I think everyone was a little surprised," she said. "But, yeah, I was just like, 'I'm ready.'"

Raducanu proved she was even more ready.

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