Teen sensation Emma Raducanu has shrugged off an indifferent run of form to fight past fellow US Open champion Sloane Stephens in three sets and reach the second round in her debut Australian Open.
Raducanu, 19, has struggled since her breakthrough at Flushing Meadows last year and her first-round clash with Stephens proved a rollercoaster before the Englishwoman prevailed 6-0 2-6 6-1 for her first win of 2022.
"It was a tough match-up really for a first round, but I was just very happy," Raducanu said.
"I knew there was going to be some very long rallies and her athleticism is really up there, so I was having to work extremely hard for my points, but I'm so happy to have got through.
"I was very pleased. Coming out of the first set, I thought I played some very good tennis with very little unforced errors.
"Then, of course, there was going to be some adversity in the long rallies. She was just edging through with her defence.
"I'm happy to have regrouped and in the third set, I don't think the score really reflected the level out there."
Raducanu's tough end to 2021 was compounded by a bout of COVID-19 in Abu Dhabi in December.
That ruled her out of the Melbourne Summer Set, before she copped a straight sets loss to Elena Rybakina first-up at the Sydney Tennis Classic.
But the 17th seed struck an imperious figure as she took just 17 minutes to rip through the first set, making just two unforced errors.
Stephens broke Raducanu in the opening game of the second set, which lasted 12 minutes.
The American converted her fifth break point when Raducanu served back-to-back double faults.
Raducanu broke back but Stephens won the next four games to get on level footing.
In the third set Raducanu rediscovered her aggression, reeling off the first five games of the decider before Stephens held serve to force the teenager to serve out the match.
Raducanu double-faulted on the first of three match points, then hit a second long, but foiled Stephens with a lovely backhand slice drop-shot to seal victory.
She will play Danka Kovinic in the second round.
Australian Associated Press
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