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Emma Raducanu wins on Australian Open return after eight-month injury lay-off

1573 ARENA — Emma Raducanu won her first grand slam match in a year to confirm her return from injury, beating Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-2 at the Australian Open in just 76 minutes.

Raducanu, 21, will now face world No 94 Wang Yafan in the second round, the stage at which she has lost in both her previous campaigns in Melbourne.

However, the 2021 US Open champion showed no signs of the soreness that had kept her out of two pre-tournament exhibition matches, or the back and thigh problems that threatened to hinder her in Auckland.

Raducanu did not face a single break point during the match and lost just five games, her most dominant victory since beating Danka Kovinic in Indian Wells last March.

The British No 8 – as she is after dropping to 298 in the world during her absence – had already made her comeback after injury, beating Elena-Gabriela Ruse before losing to Wimbledon semi-finalist Elina Svitolina in a creditable defeat.

But she had ended that match in obvious discomfort and lost the third set 6-1 to raise concerns about her participation in Melbourne.

However, she proved in competitive practice sessions with fellow Brits including Katie Boulter and Jodie Burrage that the withdrawals were precautionary, with a Tuesday start an added bonus.

It was also a bonus that Raducanu was drawn against one of the few players in the tournament with less recent match practice than she: Rogers suffered an abdominal tear last summer and also struggled with a knee problem for a combined lay-off of more than six months. This was her first competitive match since Wimbledon last year.

That ring-rust showed too as Rogers handed Raducanu a gift of a break in the fourth game of the match, producing three forehand unforced errors to bring up three break points, the third of which the Brit took, courtesy of yet another forehand error.

In total, the American hit 35 unforced errors, virtually split evenly between the sets, meaning she was never realistically capable of getting close to Raducanu.

And it was the Rogers forehand that immediately handed her opponent the advantage in the second set too, and once Raducanu led 6-3 2-0 it never seemed likely she would cede the advantage.

For all Rogers’s errors, her opponent did still have to make sure she won it, producing 16 winners and a satisfying dominance in the longer points to suggest she was moving as well as ever.

But as importantly as anything, Raducanu looked delighted to be on court. She afforded herself a giggle when a ball kid was comprehensively outwitted by a stray bug on the court, and when victory was sealed you could not have wished for a broader grin.

Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 16, 2024 A ballgirl attempts to catch an insect as Britain's Emma Raducanu looks on during her first round match against Shelby Rogers of the U.S. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Raducanu’s match was delayed by an errant insect on the court (Photo: Reuters)

She sprinted to a familiar fan to give him a towel before spending a significant portion of time signing balls, t-shirts, hats and anything else dangled down to the side of the court from the 1573 seats.

One hesitates to say Raducanu is back – this was just a first-round win, after all – but she has certainly started on the right path.

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