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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Eleanor Crooks

Emma Raducanu sets up clash with Coco Gauff after opening win at Australian Open

Emma Raducanu has made a winning start at the Australian Open.

Emma Raducanu gave herself a clean bill of health at the Australian Open as she looked ahead to a mouth-watering second-round clash with Coco Gauff.

It will pit probably the two biggest young stars in the game against each other, with both having transcended tennis in a way that even dominant world number one Iga Swiatek has not yet managed.

Excitement about the potential match-up was tempered from Raducanu’s side by an ankle injury suffered in Auckland 11 days ago that threatened her participation in the tournament.

She had it taped up on Monday and looked tentative at first against German Tamara Korpatsch on serve and moving out wide to her backhand but settled into the match well and finished the 6-3 6-2 win with a beaming smile on her face.

“I’m obviously really happy to be through to the second round,” she said. “It was always going to be difficult, coming in with so little prep and being out there.

“Everything I’ve done has been quite controlled the last week. So to test it out in a real match and with the unpredictability and stuff, I was just getting used to it in the beginning. But it felt good.”

Raducanu needed three sets to get past Korpatsch in their only previous meeting on clay last spring but that is the German’s best surface and this turned out to be rather a gentle lob of a draw.

Korpatsch offered little to trouble Raducanu and the British player had chances in virtually all her opponent’s service games.

She was twice pegged back from a break ahead in the early stages but another break for 4-3 was the start of a run of six games in a row that put an increasingly confident-looking Raducanu in complete control of the match.

The 20-year-old’s struggles last year were in part a legacy of her physical troubles but she also moved away from the attacking, first-strike tennis that was such a feature of her US Open triumph.

She worked at returning to that style under former coach Dmitry Tursunov before the Russian decided not to turn the partnership into a permanent one, and it appears that is also the direction of travel under his successor Sebastian Sachs.

Raducanu also felt the ankle injury allowed her to swing freely, saying: “If anything, it kind of alleviates any pressure because you’re like, ‘Well, I’ve done so well to get myself onto the court’, and my team has done so well.

“(Physio) Will (Herbert) has been working on it every single day. It’s just a great achievement for all of us. Then for me to be out there, it’s like I might as well just enjoy all the hard work we’ve done to get myself here.”

Although she is nearly a year and a half older then Gauff, who is still only 18, Raducanu should also feel a certain freedom given the American is a lot more experienced and the seventh seed.

“I’m really looking forward to this match,” said the British number one ahead of the Wednesday showdown. “I’m very up for it. Coco has obviously done a lot of great things and she’s playing well.

“I think we’re both good, young players, we’re both coming through, part of the next generation of tennis, really. It’s going to be a great match.”

Gauff has built on her remarkable breakthrough as a 15-year-old at Wimbledon in 2019, when she reached the fourth round, gaining experience and then stepping up last season by making the French Open final.

Raducanu is an admirer of the teenager, saying: “When she first came (through) at Wimbledon, I think after that it took her a little bit to adjust as well, but then she definitely found her feet.

“She’s playing really good tennis and looking really solid right now. She’s a great athlete with some big weapons. It’s going to be a tough opponent.”

Raducanu has not been overwhelmed with friends in the locker room but Gauff is someone who has been warm towards her, recognising what a challenging situation the Kent player found herself in after her stunning breakthrough triumph.

“I talk to her pretty much at all the tournaments,” said Gauff. “I didn’t really know her that well in juniors, but I’ve got to talk to her more on tour now.

“Obviously she’s gone through a lot of pressure, bursting onto the scene. I feel like probably more than I have experienced coming to win a slam.

“And especially I feel like being from the UK, being the first British person to do something in a long time, probably is a lot more pressure than what I’m used to being an American. Serena is retired now but she was always the American that people looked to.”

Gauff is rated as one of the favourites for the tournament and she began her campaign in confident fashion with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Czech Katerina Siniakova.

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