Melbourne, Jan 18 (IANS): British youngster Emma Raducanu, the No.17 seed, triumphed in a roller-coaster clash of US Open champions over Sloane Stephens in 1 hour and 45 minutes to move into the second round of the Australian Open here on Tuesday. Raducanu won 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 in the key clash.
Earlier, No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka fought back from a set and a break down to overcome the challenge of a talented local favourite and her own service woes, defeating wildcard Storm Sanders 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
Raducanu, who became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in New York last year, was playing another major winner for the first time in Stephens, who claimed the US Open crown in 2017. The 19-year-old put her 54-minute defeat in the first round of Sydney last week at the hands of Elena Rybakina firmly behind her to extend her Grand Slam main draw record to 11-1.
No.67-ranked Stephens, who married Jozy Altidore on New Year's Day, was playing her first match of 2022. The 28-year-old American reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open in 2013 but has now lost in the first round in six of her last seven appearances here.
Raducanu came roaring out of the blocks with her Flushing Meadows form on full display. The first set was spectacularly one-sided: the Briton took just 17 minutes to win it and dropped only four points, one of which was a double fault. Stephens fought back to win the second set 6-2. Stephens had struggled to read Raducanu's patterns of play in the first set but managed to extend rallies to superb effect in the second.
In the decider, it was Raducanu's turn to adjust, and she did so superbly. If Stephens had countered her first-strike tennis with canny defence, Raducanu's response was to play with patience and placement. The Melbourne debutante's point construction was exquisite, from the low balls that repeatedly outdid Stephens at the net to the well-timed changes of direction down the line. Punishing the Stephens second serve also paid dividends, with two booming backhand returns sealing the double break for 4-0.
Seeking a second bagel set of the day at 5-0, Raducanu set up two passing shots perfectly, only to miss the finishing touch. But she would serve out the win with little trouble, ending a 17-shot rally with a flicked cross-court drop shot on her third match point.
Next up for Raducanu is a second-round clash with Montenegro's Danka Kovinic, the World No.98. Kovinic overcame South Korean qualifier Jang Su Jeong 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 in 3 hours and 9 minutes, the longest main-draw match of the year so far.
The result puts Kovinic, 27, into the second round of a major for the seventh time. She has yet to progress to the third round.