‘Rekindled a fire’: Emma Raducanu feeling back to her best for Wimbledon

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Emma Raducanu says she has fallen in love with tennis again and is certain that good things are coming for her as she works through her final week of competition before Wimbledon at the Eastbourne International.

“I’m just really into it at the moment,” Raducanu said. “I love the sport, I love tennis. It’s kind of just taken over me. I’ve really rekindled a light and a fire inside of me. Just very happy and enjoying it a lot.

“I’m just really grateful to have this feeling again because it’s something that I feel like I’ve been missing in a way for the last few years. I haven’t felt this good about my tennis and just excited about it and passionate for a long, long time. I think now it’s really comforting for me, because I’m way less focused on the result because I know, with the way that I’m training and the way that I’m competing and fighting on the court, good things are 100% going to happen.”

Raducanu will make her tournament debut at Eastbourne this week as she faces Sloane Stephens in the opening round. The first few years of Raducanu’s career have been so turbulent that she is on course to play only her first full grass court season at WTA level. During her breakout season in 2021, Raducanu played an ITF event in Nottingham as well as the WTA tournament and in 2022 Raducanu injured herself in the opening game of her first-round match in Nottingham, only just recovering in time for Wimbledon. Last year, she missed the entire grass-court season owing to surgery on her wrists and ankle.

Compared to the stress of those previous grass seasons, it makes sense that she is enjoying herself this year. After opting out of the final weeks of the clay-court season, Raducanu enjoyed a solid week at the Nottingham Open, reaching her third WTA semi-final before losing against the British No 1 and eventual champion Katie Boulter in a three-hour match. The 21-year-old then decided to train in the second week of the grass season. After her dramatic first years on the tour, she is more experienced and no longer directly in the spotlight.

“I really feel in a lot better spirits on and off the court,” Raducanu said. “And I think that it’s just showing in my practices and it’s showing in my day to day. I think I’m a lot brighter and bubblier. Someone actually commented the other day: ‘It’s like back to your old self.’ And I would actually say: ‘No, it’s my new self,’ because I have the experiences that I’ve learned from the past me, too. I’m just happy and I like figuring out the challenges because I know there are inevitably going to be some. Just working through that.”

Sloane Stephens plays a shotView image in fullscreen

A noteworthy first-round match between two former US Open champions awaits. While Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, is incredibly talented, this is an opportunity for Raducanu, the 2021 champion, against an opponent who has struggled in recent weeks, losing six of her past seven matches. Grass is also Stephens’s least favourite surface, though she did reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2013 and facing a fellow major champion in her opponent’s home country may be energising. For Raducanu, the next challenge will be to channel her positivity into wins.

At Eastbourne on Monday, Harriet Dart set up a second-round showdown with the 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina by edging a three-set encounter against Marie Bouzkova.

The 27-year-old wildcard battled back from a double break and 4-1 down to snatch the opening set and eventually progressed 7-5, 6-7 (7), 6-4 in just under three and a half hours. Rybakina, who retired from her Berlin Open quarter-final against Victoria Azarenka owing to illness last week, awaits Dart after she received a first-round bye.

Earlier, Billy Harris won the battle of the British players by defeating his fellow wildcard Jacob Fearnley in the men’s draw 6-4, 7-6 (7) and will take on the American second seed Tommy Paul, runner-up at Eastbourne last year, in the last 16.

Source: theguardian.com

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