Emma Raducanu handed incredible Wimbledon rankings opportunity

Kevin Palmer
Emma Raducanu climbing back up the WTA Rankings
Emma Raducanu climbing back up the WTA Rankings

You can sense the hype machine cranking back into overdrive around Emma Raducanu.

The 2021 US Open champion had a slice of good fortune when her scheduled opponent, No 22 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, withdrew on Monday morning because of illness.

Her replacement, Mexican lucky loser Renata Zarazua, appeared a much kinder prospect on paper but the world number 98 is a tricky player and Raducanu survived some difficult moments in a 7-6 (0) 6-3 victory on Centre Court.

World No 33 Elise Mertens is lying in wait for Raducanu in round two and while the Brit will head into that match as the underdog, a victory would put her on the brink of a return to the top 100 of the WTA Rankings.

A match against Greek No 9 seed Maria Sakarri, who she beat in her remarkable US Open win three years ago, could lie in wait in round three, yet even mentioning this extended run is another example of those of us in the media getting carried away with Raducanu hype.

A sportswoman who serves up hits on websites and drives likes on social media interactions like few others may now be set for a whole new round of hype, but Raducanu is wisely keen to play down her hopes for the next few days.

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“As I said in the first press conference, I’d be over the moon if I won my first round here. And I really am,” she said.

“I feel just the joy to be on-site, the joy to be part of the buzz. I’m really just enjoying myself.

“I think that each match I win should be celebrated a lot. I think for me, ’cause I know how hard matches are to win, to come by.

“I think that now, having had a few wins under my belt, I’m like really cherishing every single one because I know how difficult it is to be on the flip side of it.

“Results-wise I have no expectations. I just have expectations of myself to really put myself on the line on the court and fight and not let any frustrations get to me.”

Raducanu admitted she was nervous as she walked out on Centre Court for the first time in two years, but it is clear that she is relishing her time on court once again.

“I think the feeling of walking onto Centre Court especially, it’s powerful,” she stated.

“It’s like that moment where you say bye to your team and everyone and you go and you’re on your own. You feel like you’re completely alone.

“I think it’s something that you need to take in your stride. I don’t know one person who is probably playing their first round feeling unbelievable about themselves, not nervous at all.

“I think nerves are normal. It’s just how you use them and how you kind of channel that. I think today, yeah, it was noticeable in the first set I felt nervous.

“Especially against that type of opponent who is fighting incredibly hard, who has zero to lose, coming in as a lucky loser on Centre Court, it’s pretty special to have.

“I think that I dealt with it really well, to be honest. She just made some incredible gets, like really, really good defense. Yeah, I wish her luck in the rest of the season.”

Raducanu will need to improve on her consistency to get past Mertens in the next round and she admitted that herself.

“I don’t think it was perfect tennis,” she added. “It wasn’t clean, beautiful ball striking. It was just about managing the opponent and managing the fight and the circumstances.

“It’s that classic tennis book ‘Winning Ugly’. I think it’s just so true. Especially in the opening round of a Slam where there’s so much nerves that go through it, I would say to get through is just really big and important. I think it was a real show of character for me.”

Raducanu’s first round win at Wimbledon saw her move up to No 116 in the live WTA rankings and she will be just outside the top 100 if she gets into round three.

A run to the fourth round would see Raducanu break back into the top 100 and with no ranking points to defend for the rest of 2024, her comeback is very much back on track.