Emma Raducanu battles against blisters but falls to Kovinic at Australian Open
- US Open champion digs deep but goes out in three sets
- First time Briton has lost a completed match at a slam
Being able to properly grip a racket is normally a basic requirement of playing tennis, yet for the better part of 90 minutes Emma Raducanu was charged with navigating her first Australian Open second-round match without such a virtue.
A blister in an awkward position on Raducanu’s right hand meant that the only shot she could comfortably hit on her forehand wing for large parts was a slice. While it should have spelt the immediate end of Raducanu’s match, she fought desperately and refused to go quietly in the night. But after 2 hours 38 minutes, Raducanu’s time at the Australian Open ended as she was defeated 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 by Danka Kovinic.
Afterwards Raducanu explained that blisters had troubled her so much that her team had discussed withdrawing her from the tournament. She took solace in the way she fought until the end.
“There were some people in my team that maybe didn’t want me to play but I wanted to go out there and fight through it, see how far I could get,” she said. “I thought it was a pretty good learning experience for me. I discovered tools about myself and my game that I didn’t know I had before, so I can take some positives even from this match.”
Kovinic is a veteran presence on the fringes of the Top 100 and she is well known for her big serve and powerful, if limited, groundstrokes. Raducanu initially imposed herself on the No 98 with her return of serve, robbing time from Kovinic by taking returns early and immediately positioning herself inside the baseline.
Raducanu quickly flitted to a 3-0 double break lead, but after relinquishing one of the breaks of serve she called for the trainer at 3-2. During the medical timeout, the trainers treated a blister and Raducanu received an elaborate plaster on her right ring finger.
It became clear as Raducanu emerged from the timeout that she could not grip her racket well enough to properly hit through her forehand. She frequently resorted to slicing forehands, initially laughing towards her team after successful points, or else she ran around the stroke entirely to hit her backhand.
Sensing weakness across the net, Kovinic soared. From 0-3 down, Kovinic breezed through five consecutive games. After a particularly strong return game from Raducanu, thanks to her backhand return, Kovinic sealed the opening set on Raducanu’s serve.
Despite the unwelcome situation Raducanu found herself in, she embraced the challenge as well as she could and she learned a few new things about herself in the process. Most notably: her forehand slice was good. Not only did it skid low, irritating Kovinic throughout, but she eventually mixed in drop shots and moved her opponent around the court.
After some particularly absurd points, during which Raducanu would bring her opponent to the net with her slice and then slip passing shots by her, she would laugh towards her box. Raducanu established a 4-2 lead in the second set and then took the second set.
In the end, it was not enough. After Kovinic barged her way to victory in the final set, Raducanu explained the difficulty of competing with blisters differs. She said that her ailment was a consequence of her time spent away from the court after contracting Covid, her hands becoming soft and vulnerable to blisters. Since the blisters had been bothering her for the past week, she even resorted to training only backhands during her practice sessions.
She said: “I sort of think the same, like how can a small thing like a blister cause so much pain and aggravation? But it’s just the position of it. It’s right in the crease, it’s so deep. I just can’t grip the racket. Like every time I hit, make contact with the ball, it would create an impact. Or, say, I hit one slightly off centre and the racket moves a bit in my hand, it’s just like even more friction and it rips again. So it’s very painful, like every single shot you really hit.”
For the third time since the end of last year, though, Raducanu was playing for a chance to face Simona Halep. Unable to face her idol, Raducanu’s physical state tempered her disappointment. “Yeah, I don’t think you’re getting very far against Simona with a slice forehand,” she said. “Not gonna lie.”
In the end, Raducanu was defeated in the second round but she ended her tournament having discovered something new and unexpected about herself. As she navigates the tour this year, determined to learn as much as she can about life as a professional player, a week like this is more than enough.
- Australian Open
- Australia sport
- Australian Open 2022
- Emma Raducanu