Tennis-Raducanu shrugs off poor build-up to show her mettle

Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - June 27, 2022 Britain's Emma Raducanu celebrates winning her first round match against Belgium's Alison Van Uytvanck REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

LONDON (Reuters) - Emma Raducanu said she was going to "just rock up" at Wimbledon after her preparations were ravaged by injury but the British teenager was all business once she walked out on to Centre Court on Monday, showing steely determination and court craft.

She may be the U.S. Open champion but with not even a full set of grasscourt play under her belt this year, plus a side injury that left her participation in doubt until three days ago and with the pressure of being the home nation's latest "Big Hope", it was never going to be a cruise on her first appearance on Centre Court.

Belgian Alison van Uytvanck, who won two grasscourt events in her preparation, was by no means a first-round patsy but Raducanu overcame some early waywardness to work out how to deal with her awkward opponent in a way that belied her limited experience.

Her 6-4 6-4 victory made it five first-round wins in her five Grand Slam appearances -- a timely reminder that even though she is 19 and was virtually unknown when she came to Wimbledon as a wild card last year, she knows what she is doing.

"I was very pleased with the way I sort of adapted to everything that she threw at me," Raducanu said. "Alison's game is really awkward. She has great hands; she'll chip one back and it will just die on the floor. Then she'll hit one and it's really flat and fast. You don't really know what's going to come at you.

"So there were definitely some tricky moments but I held some really tough service games."

Just as Raducanu is gaining experience from her whirlwind year, opponents are learning more about her. In contrast to her free-wheeling, nothing-to-lose hitting en route to the U.S. Open title, she is now being forced to learn on the job.

"When no one knows you, no one knows your game... that is something that I experienced in a positive way last summer," she said. "Since then I think that people have definitely watched me and raised their level and raised their game and played some great tennis. I haven't necessarily played badly in a lot of the matches I've lost."

She certainly seemed to enjoy her first taste of Centre Court, saying she loved the energy of the venue she described as the most special in the sport.

"Big matches and big occasions are the ones that I really sort of get the most fired up for," she said. "It's definitely a different feeling. I love playing on the big stages, I really thrive on that."

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Clare Fallon)

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