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Home > Emma Raducanu’s Star Showing And England Football Quip Shows She Is A Born Entertainer

Emma Raducanu’s Star Showing And England Football Quip Shows She Is A Born Entertainer

Returning to Centre Court after a two-year absence, Emma Raducanu showed her star quality in one of the most intriguing matches of the day.

First Raducanu scored the quirkiest of wins over an awkward Mexican opponent, and then she made the fans chuckle with a smart reference to the England football team. The woman is a born entertainer, and it was good to see her back.

“Honestly [after] watching the football last night it was [about] winning ugly,” said Raducanu at the conclusion of her 7-6, 6-3 win over Renata Zarazua, an opponent who had to be drafted in at the last moment when 22nd seed Ekaterina Alexandrova withdrew due to illness.

The late change must have been discombobulating, especially as Raducanu had been preparing for a big-hitter with a flat and relentless style of play.

Zarazua could not have been more different. Her game, like her surname, kept flipping from A to Z and back again. One minute she was hitting a knifed slice, the next a loopy groundstroke, and then most tantalising of drop shots.

Raducanu was almost hypnotised by these saucy lofted efforts, which kept landing a foot or two beyond the net and then spinning back towards it. Zarazua seemed determined to tangle Raducanu in its threads by dangling bait like a fisherwoman.

Time and again, Raducanu went charging forward like a bull at a matador’s cloak, only to be confounded when the ball died on the grass in front of her. She must have lost a dozen of these points before she finally came up with an answer in the penultimate rally of the match, angling away a drop shot counter of her own for a winner.

Responding to this late reversal of fortune, the crowd roared as if Coldplay had just taken to the Pyramid Stage. Meanwhile Raducanu clenched her first, doubled over and roared in the direction of her player box. It was hard to tell, but she might have given Zarazua a glare as well.

Thank goodness for the dry weather of the last few days, because the turf was relatively dry and stable underfoot on the opening day, whereas it had been dangerously slippery during the showery week at Queen’s. In such conditions, Raducanu could easily have suffered a pratfall.

Even as it was, she clearly struggled mentally, often turning to her player box and tapping the side of her head as if to say “I’ve got to hold this together.” Against this mind-melter of an opponent, Raducanu seemed to be playing rock, paper, scissors against a woman who kept responded with bunny ears or devil signs. She often had no idea where to go next.

“It was an incredibly difficult match,” said Raducanu during her on-court interview. “I’ve barely played a defender who’s landed the ball on the baseline [so often] and it took a lot of strength to get the ball back.

“I found out at 10.30am today [that she wasn’t playing Alexandrova] and for the last three days we were playing with similar opponents. It took a little bit of adjusting to find my feet. I was nervous, I’m sure everyone could see that in my tennis.”

Raducanu broke serve first, as might be expected against Zarazua’s underpowered 90mph deliveries, and seemed to be cruising at 4-2. But then the succession of drop shots seemed to cripple her rhythm. She dropped 12 of the next 15 points to leave the match back in the balance.

The good news was that, once the business end of the set approached, Zarazua suddenly lost her nerve on her weird variations, and began playing normally. This was fatal. Raducanu rediscovered her timing at the right moment, scooting through the tie-break 7-0 and then played with slightly more confidence in the second set.

Even so, the chess-like maneuverings continued. There were no fewer than 34 rallies that reached double-figures on the shot count. For purposes of comparison, Madison Keys’s win over Martina Trevisan – which contained one more game – featured just eight.

Raducanu is normally fairly miserly with her unforced errors, but coughed up 30 here, just because she had to hit so many shots. This was testament to Zarazua’s resourceful defence, but it also highlighted a lack of bite, particularly on the forehand side. Raducanu never likes to flatten out her forehand, especially when hitting crosscourt, and this could be an issue as she moves deeper in the tournament.

Still, let’s enjoy this moment while we can. “It’s such a buzz in the summertime,” Raducanu told the Centre Court crowd. “I think the tennis, football, F1, it uplifts everyone, myself included, and my motivation is to keep coming back here, keep playing and feel that buzz.”

Later, in the interview room, Raducanu was asked about her earlier reference to the England football team.

“For sure I sympathise with the players who are being told they need to play a lot better, need to play perfect,” she replied. “At the end of the day it’s about getting over the line.

“Today I used it as motivation. It doesn’t need to be beautiful, it doesn’t need to be perfect. As long as you get through the opening rounds, you give yourself another chance to play better.”

With specific reference to the criticism surrounding Gareth Southgate, she said “Football is just on a much bigger scale than tennis. They’re all under the microscope. I do feel for the scrutiny because the whole nation is watching [and] fans are very, very passionate.”

Does she relate to their experience? “In a way, yeah, but I relate a little bit less than they’re going through. I think it just comes with success. It just comes with being at the top. I think when they’re not talking about you, that’s when you need to start to worry.”

Osaka celebrates win – then daughter’s birthdayNaomi Osaka enjoyed a full-circle moment after making a winning return to Wimbledon as a mother the day before her daughter’s first birthday.

This time last year, Osaka was watching the Championships on TV after giving birth to her daughter, Shai, and plotting her comeback to tennis.

While her 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 win over France’s Diane Parry was far from perfect, it was a moment to savour for the former world number one as she continues her return on tour.

Osaka skipped Eastbourne last week to throw a “really big celebration” for her daughter ahead of a busy schedule at SW19 but intends to mark the occasion on Tuesday by giving her a Peter Rabbit book as a present.

“It’s a little surprising that she’s already one, but she has so much personality it feels like she’s older than one at this point,” said Osaka, whose last appearance at Wimbledon came in 2019 before enduring injury struggles and taking an extended break from the sport for mental health reasons. “I’m just really grateful that she’s in this world.”

Osaka returned to competitive tennis at January’s Australian Open and, now ranked 113th in the world, the 26-year-old has made no secret of her goal to better her grass-court game – she has never been beyond the third round at Wimbledon – and aims to do so armed with a different mindset.

“When I was just coming back from pregnancy, I was thinking that I was going to train the exact same way and I was going to play the exact same way,” she said.

“But I feel like that’s the cool thing about life: you don’t have to constantly revisit the past. That puts a lot of pressure on myself. Honestly, the way that I want to play now is an evolution of how I played before. I think certain aspects of my game are better. I guess I just need to put the pieces together.”

Osaka remains a major name in the women’s draw after two high-profile withdrawals on the opening day of the Championships. Two-time grand slam champions Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka both pulled out with shoulder injuries.

Elsewhere, Britain’s Heather Watson saw her 14th Wimbledon end in a straight-sets defeat to Belgium’s Greet Minnen, but there was victory for US Open champion Coco Gauff, who breezed to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Caroline Dolehide, of the US, on Centre Court.

Raducanu wins on return to SW19: As it happened . . .