Friday, December 9

Emma Raducanu battles past Van Uytvanck in straight sets at Wimbledon | Wimbledon 2022

A year ago, when Emma Raducanu arrived on the grounds at Wimbledon for the first grand slam match of her career, not many people took notice. She was scheduled out on Court 18, a standard court assignment for a British player. When she immediately trailed by a break, it was a logical scoreline for a player with no experience, not noteworthy at all. Her straight-sets victory over Vitalia Diatchenko was a footnote on the day’s play.

Her life is a little different these days. After weeks of discussion and speculation about the side strain that scuppered the majority of her grass season, Raducanu returned to Wimbledon as one of the main characters, making her Center Court debut immediately.

Despite the concerns about her fitness and a lack of recent matches, she handled herself and the moment with grit and composure. Raducanu outplayed Alison Van Uytvanck in the key moments, winning 6-4, 6-4 to reach the second round.

“I have had a tough year, it’s no secret. It is all worth it just to go out on Center Court and get a win like that,” she said afterwards.

On paper this was a difficult draw for any seeded player, let alone one with such unideal preparation. Van Uytvanck, with her de ella all-court game, big serve and flat groundstrokes has always performed well on grass. In those early exchanges, though, she both generated multiple break points but neither could find her top level of her. While Raducanu tried to impose herself inside the baseline, she initially struggled to find her range of her on her forehand.

At 3-3 in the first set Raducanu first made her move, pounding Uytvanck’s backhand throughout to break serve. Although she then lost her serve to love, Raducanu was the player inside the baseline, on the attack. She maintains the momentum, breaking serve again to take the set.

Throughout the early stages of the second set Van Uytvanck was on the verge of taking control and she broke serve for an early 3-1 lead. But as the match continued, Raducanu was far too solid. She soaked up the pressure Van Uytvanck attempted to impose on her, defending and then countering efficiently. She did not hesitate whenever the chance arose to attack.

Emma Raducanu returns the ball to Alison Van Uytvanck on her way to victory in the first round. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

After striking 13 unforced errors in the opening set, Raducanu hit only five in the second. Having arrived on Center Court after a week of frustration and doubt, she finished her day with a slick volley winner and a victory.

“I’ve been feeling [the crowd support] ever since I stepped on to the practice courts, here on the first day people behind me going, ‘Emma, ​​you’ve got this’. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this,’” she said. “To come and play here, it’s extremely special and this club itself, it’s just amazing to walk on these grounds and these courts.”

Six months into her first full season Raducanu’s year has been defined by its growing pains. Seemingly every other new appearance this season has led to another new injury niggle. At Nottingham, on 7 June, she suffered one of her most difficult setbacks from her at the most inopportune time when she was forced to withdraw early in her first-round match against Viktorija Golubic. She arrived at Wimbledon having contested a mere seven games during the grass-court season.

But, if there is a silver lining to her absence, it is that instead of navigating the growing expectations and potential overexposure, she has mostly been out of sight. She has had few press conferences and no losses to fuss over. Her focus on her has been working hard just to make it back on the match court, not her ambitions on her once she made it here.

“I didn’t play tennis for two weeks, then this week I’ve hit like an hour a day,” said Raducanu, who wore a top with Rafael Nadal’s logo.

“My preparation wasn’t necessarily the greatest. But I know that when it comes to the matches, I feel like I really switch on. I don’t feel like I need a massive amount of preparation. Of course, I do to build physically [but] I think a lot of it is mental, and I definitely went out with the belief today. I know that I can compete with anyone on the other side of the court when I really go for it.”

Throughout the past week, Raducanu has been flanked in her practice sessions by Jane O’Donoghue, a former top 200 British player who was an LTA national coach during her youth and has carved out a successful post-tennis career in banking.

“It’s just great to have someone that I’ve known for years to be there for me this week,” Raducanu said. “That’s what she’s always done, just be there for me whenever I’ve needed a hand.”

And now Raducanu is in the second round after clinching just her third win over a top-50 player this season. She will next face France’s Caroline Garcia, a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) winner over Yuriko Miyazaki. It is fair to assume that this, too, will not be an occasion for Court 18.

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