'Pain-free' Raducanu breezes into Australian Open second round

MELBOURNE: Former US Open champion Emma Raducanu said it was "amazing to be playing pain-free" after an impressive 6-3, 6-2 win over American Shelby Rogers in the first round of the Australian Open today.

The British player stunned the tennis world when she triumphed at Flushing Meadows in 2021 as a qualifier, but only on one other occasion has she reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The 21-year-old has slumped to 296 in the rankings an eight-month layoff with ankle and wrist injuries but showed glimpses of her best against the 161st-ranked Rogers, converting three of five break points.

"I honestly didn't know if I'd ever get to this stage," Raducanu said after her victory. "It's just amazing to be playing pain-free.

"I had pain for so long. I was playing since before the US swing in 2022 all the way before surgery.

"It was difficult because I wasn't able to train, I wasn't able to practise. Then having to go play and compete against the best in the world with an hour a day, while not playing for two weeks trying to settle the pain down, is very difficult."

Raducanu, who will face China's unseeded Wang Yafan in the second round in Melbourne, said her time away from the court made her "very hungry."

The British player contrasted her emotions now with her troubles at last year's Australian Open, when she lost in the second round before missing the three remaining Grand Slams in 2023.

"The Emma who walked on court 12 months ago had a huge cyst removed (from her knee) about 10 days before, had to offload," she said.

"I travelled here on a wheelchair. I only started hitting three days before the match. That whole process was a lot of stress. We weren't sure if I was going to be able to play here."

She added: "Now there's just a lot more calm. I think I'm more level-headed. I think things around me have settled. I do feel better, and there's just less I'd say highs and lows around. It's just more of an equilibrium."

Raducanu, who has been criticised for chopping and changing her coaching team, has reunited with childhood coach Nick Cavaday, who is with her in Australia.

"It's nice to be with Nick," she said. "I've known him since I was a kid, feel very comfortable there. Just all aspects really of my life I feel like are calming down and settled.

"Obviously when you come back after eight months, have experienced three surgeries, you're just really grateful to be able to move freely." --AFP

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