Emma Raducanu left the field in tears after she had to withdraw from her match in Auckland with a recent ankle injury.
Injury misfortunes that ruined 2022 for the former US Open champion followed in the new year as well. After leading the opening set of her match against Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, she fell during a rally late in the second set and then rolled her left ankle, which then finished early in the proceedings and Australian Open preparations. The fear will no doubt be whether it will qualify for the first big race of the year, which will kick off in just 11 days.
At the end of the second set, there was more than just a hint of deja vu as Raducanu sat with his arms folded, a towel draped over his shoulders, and a sullen face as a trainer tied his ankles.
Injured after injury last season, he retired from four tournaments due to physical problems and withdrew from his last few events with a wrist problem.
He spent a two-month training block working with Andy Murray’s former trainer, Jez Green, in the off-season to try to build up some physical stamina. He said that when he started the season just a few days ago, one of his main goals was to stay healthy.
So when he slipped his shoe over the ankle strap on Thursday, he sneered at his team—new coach Sebastian Sachs and longtime physical therapist Will Herbert—and nodded, as if completely stunned by his own unfortunate luck. Tears began to flow soon after, just after a point he realized he couldn’t play and retired at 0-6, 7-5.
Everything was even more unfortunate, considering how well Raducanu started the game. 20-year-old she looked like a woman on a mission from the start, she.
Persistent rain has devastated Auckland in the past few days, delaying this match for 24 hours. On Thursday, the organizers decided they needed to complete the program whatever the weather, and moved the matches to indoor practice facilities, unlike those found at Bromley Tennis Centre, where Raducanu grew up playing.
Curtains separated neighboring courts, multiple matches were played at the same time, no facilities, crowds or floodlights to defy calls. Just before 9 PM local time Raducanu entered a shaded court with only his team and a handful of people sitting on plastic garden furniture next to the pitch.
He didn’t seem to care one bit, especially after a long delay of two days. Quick and aggressive on the turn, he hit Kuzmova deep balls to earn a double break in the opening set. A narrow-angle backhand spin earned him the opening and his first bagel set of the year in just 22 minutes.
Kuzmova is a hard hitter who could shake Raducanu if given the chance to find her rhythm. After qualifying, she reached the second round of the US Open in September, defeating talented Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in the first round.
A former top 50 player came in as a qualifier in Auckland, but took a deep dive in the opening stages against Raducanu, who made just three non-essential mistakes in the first set and took a remarkable 81 percent of the first serves. He also earned every point on Kuzmova’s second serve.
But in the middle of the second set, Kuzmova leveled up. He attacked Raducanu’s serve with his own bullet-like forehand and used his luck to get a 5-4 lead.
Raducanu broke back, but rolled his ankle in the next match at 5-5. Due to limited facilities, camera replays didn’t even record the drop in the corner of the pitch. Even though Raducanu continued to play and concealed her discomfort well, Kuzmova got the set. Only then did Raducanu call the coach for a medical break on the field before waiting for time for his tournament.
There were many good signs in the game for Raducanu before the injury. Even though he was forced to make a decision in the third set, he didn’t do much wrong. He made 29 winners overall and only 12 non-essential errors, and his first serve percentage was just under 70. His mistake was simply not to try his luck in the second set.
Hopefully the time between now and the January 16 Australian Open start date will be enough to rally.