MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Britain’s Emma Raducanu said she will take the positives from her painful Australian Open exit on Thursday when a blistered racket hand contributed to a three-set defeat by Danka Kovinic.
The 19-year-old, who caused a sensation in September by winning the U.S. Open as a qualifier, went down 6-4 4-6 6-3 in a tense battle.
Raducanu needed her hand taped after the fifth game of the first set and was unable to strike her forehand with any power thereafter, resorting to a chipped slice.
Kovinic was initially thrown by it, but eventually got the better of the 17th seed to progress to the third round where she will face former world number one Simona Halep.
Raducanu recently caught COVID-19 and played only one match in the run-up to making her debut at the Grand Slam — hardly an ideal preparation.
She recorded an impressive win over former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens on Tuesday, but despite showing lots of grit she could not resist 98th-ranked Kovinic.
Stephens said after losing to Raducanu that she would face lots of “ups and downs” as she tried to live up to the expectations now on her young shoulders.
But the way Raducanu dealt with misfortune on Thursday and came up with a plan that almost worked was impressive.
“I’ve been struggling with blisters since I started playing really in Australia, because 21 days, no tennis, my hands got pretty soft,” Raducanu told reporters.
“I have been trying to like tape it for every practice, and it would like harden and dry out, but then once I would play again, like another layer would just keep ripping off.”
Raducanu said some of her team had advised her not to play, but she was happy she gave it a go.
“Probably hit more (sliced forehands) in that match than I have in two or three years. That was definitely one thing I learned, that nice slice forehand is not so bad and I have some sort of hand skills,” she told reporters.
“I was just proud of how I kept fighting even in those situations. I just kept hanging in there.
“I still think I can take some positives out of it. I just know that got that fight in me, even if I have got one shot, I know that I can pull myself out of deep situations.
“I’m still young, I feel like I can learn a backhand, I can learn some sort of tactics, but it’s quite hard to learn or teach someone that fight and grittiness to hang in there when things are all against you. So I’m quite proud of that.”
While Raducanu admitted playing Halep with only a sliced forehand might not have got her very far, she said that it could be a tactic she uses in the future.
“That was probably an element of surprise for my opponent today who wasn’t expecting me to be doing that,” she said.
“It was pretty effective, so if I can mix that with my aggressive game style, I think that would be a really good and dangerous combination going forward.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)