Emma Raducanu left the court in tears after being forced to withdraw from the match in Auckland with a recent ankle injury.
The injury woes that ruined 2022 for the former US Open champion followed her into the new year. After taking over the first set against Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova, a fall during the rally towards the end of the second set caused her to sprain her left ankle, which in turn put an early end to her struggle and preparation for the Australian Open. The fear will no doubt be whether she will be fit for the first major of the year starting in just 11 days.
There was more than a hint of deja vu as Raducanu sat with her arms crossed, a towel over her shoulders and a grim face as the trainer placed her ankle at the end of the second set. Last season, she suffered an injury after an injury that was cut short by a wrist problem.
She even spent a two-month off-season training block working with Jez Green, Andy Murray’s former trainer, to get her body fit and ready to handle the rigors of the tour.
So as she slipped her shoe over the ankle strap on Thursday, she briefly smiled sarcastically at her team – coach Sebastian Sachs and physio Will Herbert – as if completely amazed at her rotten luck.
She started the season just a few days ago and her main goal was to stay healthy. Now, after just two games, she was retiring from injury again. Tears began to flow after she played only one point with a heavy foot kick and went to the net to give her opponent a 0-6, 7-5 victory.
This was all the more unfortunate considering how well Raducan had started the match. The 20-year-old from the beginning looked like a woman on a mission. Fast and aggressive on her return, she hit deep balls back to Kuzmova to earn a double break in the opening set. A sharp backhand return earned her an opener and her first set of bagels of the year in just 22 minutes.
Kuzmova is a tough fighter who, if given the chance to find her rhythm, could shake Raducan. In September, she reached the second round of the US Open, defeating the talented Spanish Sara Sorribes Tormo in the first round after qualifying.
A former Top 50 player, she went through as an eliminator in Auckland but fell from the depths in the opening stages against Raducan, who committed only three unforced errors in the first set and a remarkable 81 percent of first serves.
Midway through the second set, however, Kuzmova upped her game by attacking Raducan’s serve with her own bullet-like forehand turns and taking her chances. Late, when Raducanu tried to stay in the rally with the Slovakian, she sprained her ankle, which ended her tournament.