Emma Raducanu handed daunting Abu Dhabi draw as questions asked over choice of tournament

Kevin Palmer
Emma Raducanu celebrates Australian Open
Emma Raducanu celebrates at the 2024 Australian Open

Emma Raducanu has been handed another daunting draw in her latest comeback event, which may inspire a debate over the tournaments she is entering.

The 2021 US Open champion made an encouraging return to action as she played at WTA events in Aukland and then won a round at the Australian Open.

Her performances in those matches were ahead of expectations after the 21-year-old stepped away from the court last April to undergo surgery on both of her wrists and her ankle.

After her exit in Melbourne, Raducanu hinted she may play lower-level events to improve her ranking and find her feet back on the tour after a long time in recovery during 2023.

“I’m more focused on level and the practice days, trying to win the day rather than focusing more on win or loss at this stage,” she said.

“I know the difference between me playing okay and me playing good or me playing great are just really, really in the details, like doing a few things just 5% better. I think it makes a huge difference.

“I’m feeling very positive. I really just want to play a full season. The encouraging thing is, even though I played two back-to-back three-setters in Auckland, a three-setter today, body-wise, strength-wise, I didn’t come up with any random niggles.

“Looking ahead, I might play different events. I really believe that the level in these quote “lower-level tournaments” and these tournaments is not that big.

“The level at an ITF isn’t that much different and you can get a lot of matches under your belt. I would play whatever suits my schedule, whatever suits the plan.”

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Raducanu appears to have backtracked on those comments somewhat as she has entered a WTA 500 event in Abu Dhabi, with the draw confirming she faces a huge task to make progress.

She will take on world No 36 Marie Bouzkova in the first round and could face two-time Wimbledon runner-up in the second round if she comes through the opening test.

With Raducanu currently ranked at No 295, she could make a speedy leap up the rankings if she were to make progress in these high-level events.

A run to the last eight in Abu Dhabi would propel her up the WTA rankings, yet there is a much higher chance of an early exit from events when she is taking on such high-level opposition.

In the opinion of former British No 1 Laura Robson, Raducanu should focus on staying fit and building confidence as she was encouraged by her performances in New Zealand and Australia.

“Emma showed real promise as she beat Shelby Rogers in the first round of the Australian Open,” Robson told Sky Sports. I think she’s playing much more aggressively again, which is fantastic.

“She played a really great match in Auckland, then it was great to see her back it up at a Grand Slam, even as she was edged out in three sets by Wang Yafan.

“She just needs time and matches, and I know she’s entered Abu Dhabi and planning to play a full schedule.

“So, I feel like only good things are coming for Emma and even though she was sick on court, she competed really well. She was mentally very tough and those are the things that matter most.

“She seems in a much happier place. She said that playing without pain was like having the backpack taken off, which is a really great point that I loved because it really felt like that on the court as well.

“She had a smile on her face. She was playing more aggressively and just not worrying so much about the result and enjoying the fans, just being in the moment a bit more, which is always a challenge in a tennis match.”