Sports

Emma Raducanu in fight for Australian Open spot with wildcard slots filling up

Emma Raducanu is facing up to the prospect of Australian Open qualifying with her hopes of a last-minute wildcard dwindling. 

The opening grand slam of the 2024 season is due to get underway on Sunday 14 January and the 2021 US Open champion’s ranking of 103 is not enough to earn her an automatic place after an injury-blighted 2023.

i understands Raducanu has requested a wildcard from Australian Open organisers, but is yet to receive any positive or negative indication from them.

The 21-year-old will make her comeback after eight months out in Auckland next week at the ASB Classic, where she has been granted a wildcard.

She is then expected to head to Australia no matter what, either for qualifying or to begin preparations in Melbourne for the Australian Open.

Raducanu is of course no stranger to grand slam qualifying, having twice played the preliminary stages at Wimbledon before famously winning 10 matches in a row at the US Open to become the first qualifier ever to win a major.

But it has been a rocky road since then for Britain’s overnight star, losing more matches than she has won as she finds her feet on the professional tour. She has also worked with a string of short-lived coaches and was finally forced to undergo surgery on both wrists and her ankle earlier this year.

As such, Raducanu would expect a sympathetic welcome back to the tour but Tennis Australia (TA) would rather not risk the wrath of their public by awarding her a spot in the home grand slam that would ordinarily go to a local player.

TA has already given Caroline Wozniacki, the 2018 champion who is returning after coming out of retirement, a wildcard and are obliged to give two more to players from France and the US, as part of a reciprocal arrangement with the French and US Opens respectively. Another is also usually reserved for a player from the Asia-Pacific region.

That leaves just four places for Australian women, of whom only one – Ajla Tomljanovic – is automatically in.

However, TA may have the Raducanu decision taken out of its hands by fate. The British player is only three more injury withdrawals away from laddering up to an automatic spot in the main draw after Caty McNally pulled out.

Coaching mystery continues

Raducanu’s record of hiring and firing coaches, including splitting with Andrew Richardson just weeks after winning her maiden major, has attracted attention and criticism.

So it will be with great interest that observers glance over to her players’ box when she makes her long-awaited comeback.

It is expected that, among others, Nick Cavaday will be sitting there after working with her over the winter at the National Tennis Centre in west London.

Cavaday, 37, is as familiar face to Raducanu, with whom he worked during her early years in tennis at the Bromley Tennis Centre in Kent.

He is also an experienced hand in the coaching game, having previously worked with former Briton Aljaz Bedene and retired GB Davis Cup doubles player Dominic Inglot. More recently, he ran the Lawn Tennis Association’s National Academy at Loughborough, but left that post in April.

Cavaday is expected to be the man helping Raducanu back into the top echelons of the game in January, but there has been no official confirmation. In theory, it could be anyone.

Still a global superstar

Raducanu’s time on the sidelines has done nothing to dull her worldwide stardom though, particularly in the Far East.

Her mother Renee comes from northern China and Raducanu is a fluent Mandarin speaker, and will feature on the cover of Tatler Hong Kong next month after spending time in the region earlier in December.

And she was keen to stress to the magazine that her lengthy comeback – she first got back on court in August – has been a real grind.

“I think anyone who’s actually worked with and around me knows that I’m a really hard worker,” Raducanu told Tatler.

“It’s true that if you put in the hours and hours and hours and hours, it’s going to get you there.

“But at some point, you get diminishing returns, and it’s just not the most efficient way to train or learn, and knowing when to pull back and actually work smarter is when you get more out of yourself and better results.”

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