Emma Raducanu left the court in tears after she was forced to retire from her match in Auckland due to a fresh ankle injury.
Injury misfortunes that blighted 2022 for the former US Open champion have followed her into the new year. After commandeering the opening set of her match against Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova, a fall during a rally late in the second set saw her roll her left ankle that subsequently put a premature end to proceedings and her Australian Open preparations. The fear will no doubt be whether she can be fit for the first major of the year, which begins in just 11 days.
There was more than a hint of deja vu as Raducanu sat with her arms crossed, towel draped over her shoulders and face sullen while a trainer strapped her ankle at the end of the second set.
She suffered injury after injury last season, retiring from four tournaments through physical issues and she pulled out of her final few events with a wrist problem.
To try to build some physical resilience she spent a two-month training block during the off-season working with Jez Green, Andy Murray’s former trainer. When she started the season mere days ago, she said one of her main aim was to stay healthy.
So when she pulled her shoe over the ankle strapping on Thursday, she briefly cracked an ironic smile at her team – new coach Sebastian Sachs and long-time physiotherapist Will Herbert – shaking her head as if completely baffled by her own rotten luck. The tears began flowing soon after, as after just one point she realised she could not play on, retiring at 0-6, 7-5.
It was all the more unfortunate considering how well Raducanu began the match. The 20-year-old looked like a woman on a mission from the off.
Persistent rain had blighted Auckland over the last couple of days, postponing this match by 24 hours. On Thursday organisers decided they needed to get the schedule done regardless of the weather and they moved matches onto the indoor practice court facilities, not unlike the ones found at the Bromley Tennis Centre where Raducanu grew up playing.
Curtains separated neighbouring courts, multiple matches happened simultaneously, there were no facilities to challenge calls, no crowds or floodlights. Raducanu walked onto a shadowy court just before 9pm local time, with just her team and a handful of people sat on plastic garden furniture next to the court.
Not that she seemed to mind in the slightest, especially after a long two days of delays. Quick and aggressive on the return, she hit deep balls back to Kuzmova to earn a double break in the opening set. A tight-angled backhand return won her the opener, and her first bagel set of the year, in just 22 minutes.
Kuzmova is a hard-hitter who, if given the chance to find her rhythm, could rattle Raducanu. She reached the second round at the US Open in September, beating talented Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in the first round after coming through qualifying.
A former top 50 player, she came through as a qualifier in Auckland but looked out of her depth in the opening stages against Raducanu, who made just three unforced errors in the first set and a remarkable 81 per cent of first serves. She also won every single point on Kuzmova’s second serve.
Midway through the second set though, Kuzmova upped her level. She attacked Raducanu’s serve with her own bullet-like forehand returns and took her chances to lead 5-4.
Raducanu broke back, but rolled her ankle in the very next game at 5-5. Due to the limited facilities, the camera replays did not even pick up the fall, deep in the corner of the court. Though Raducanu played on and masked her discomfort well, Kuzmova took the set. It was only then that Raducanu summoned the trainer for an on-court medical timeout, before calling time on her tournament.
There were lots of good signs in the match for Raducanu prior to the injury. Though she had been pushed to a third-set decider, she did not do much wrong. Overall she hit 29 winners and just 12 unforced errors, and her first serve percentage was just shy of 70. Her fault was merely failing to take her chances in the second set.
Hopefully the time between now and the January 16 Australian Open start date will be enough to recover.
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