Saturday December 02, 2023

Raducanu beats Stephens on Australian Open debut

January 19, 2022

MELBOURNE: Teenage US Open champion Emma Raducanu sent 2017 Flushing Meadows winner Sloane Stephens crashing out of the Australian Open at the first hurdle Tuesday, producing some devastating tennis in a return to form.

Raducanu made history by becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title in New York last year, but had won only two matches since.

The 19-year-old was back to her dazzling best on Margaret Court Arena despite a second-set battle, ousting the American Stephens 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 in a performance that will make her rivals sit up and take notice.

"Both me and Sloane really put everything out there. I thought it was a high-quality match with some great rallies," said the 17th seed from Britain, who was making her Australian Open debut.

"I´m really happy to come through against a great champion like here.

"It was a tough match for the first round, I had to work extremely hard for every point, and I´m very pleased."

Stephens was ranked just 67, but had plenty of experience, reaching at least the quarter-finals at all four Slams.

However, she has struggled in Melbourne since reaching the last four in 2013, slumping in the first round now on six occasions since.

In the first clash between the two players, the Briton made a blistering start, racing to a 3-0 lead with Stephens winning just two points.

Raducanu was full of confidence and aggressive, not letting the American into the match, pushing her around the court and producing some fine winners.

Stephens was shellshocked, losing the first set in just 17 minutes.

But she re-grouped at the changeover and earned five break points on the Raducanu serve in a huge first game of the second set, finally getting on the scoreboard courtesy of a double fault.

That one game lasted 12 minutes, just five minutes less than the entire first set.

Stephens held serve for 2-0 and then broke twice more to win the set convincingly as she lifted her game dramatically and her experience came to the fore.

But it was Raducanu who came out all guns blazing in the third set, playing like she did in the first, to storm a double break clear before sealing the win.

She will next play Montenegro´s Danka Kovinic, who beat Korean qualifier Jang Se-jeong in three sets.