DICKSON: Raducanu showed steel in her first Centre Court appearance

MIKE DICKSON: Emma Raducanu was far from overwhelmed in her first appearance on Centre Court… the teenager showed there is no shortage of steel beneath her beatific smile to see off Alison van Uytvanck

  • Emma Raducanu wasn’t overwhelmed by the pressure in SW19 on Monday
  • The 19-year-old showed steel as she got her Wimbledon campaign underway 
  • Raducanu defeated Alison van Uytvanck in straight sets in the first round
  • At times there was a lack of power but overall it was an encouraging display 
  • The British No 1 won 6-4, 6-4 to book her place in the second round at SW19
  • Click here for live updates as we take you through day one at Wimbledon

Strange to say that, prior to Monday, ex-Chelsea footballer Graeme Le Saux had spent more time on the Centre Court than Emma Raducanu.

As an All England Club member, the once international full back had been one of those chosen to break the surface in with a social mixed doubles on Saturday.

The US Open champion had to content herself with some prior visualisation out in the arena, familiarising herself with its dimensions.

Emma Raducanu wasn’t overwhelmed as she won on her first Centre Court appearance 

Whatever she did in the past few days it worked, because last year’s A-level student passed this latest exam with flying colours, a tricky paper having been set by Alison Van Uytvanck.

She first encountered Raducanu in November 2018, when the star of New York was a total unknown playing a small international tournament on the Wirral.

The teenager’s opponent was the Belgian’s then partner Greet Minnen. After Raducanu had won Van Uytvanck – already an established top 100 player who was practising there that week – made a point of telling the Kent teenager’s coach how impressed she was with her level.

She will know even better now how good she is, having tried everything to ruin this much-anticipated Centre Court debut.

Alison Van Uytvanck tried to make matters difficult for Raducanu but was eventually beaten

The world number 46 mixed it up with heavy forehand drives and awkward slices that invited Raducanu to generate her own pace, but most of the time the 19 year-old had the answer.

At times the Belgian made it easy by misfiring with her serve and the five double faults, often at crucial times, were definitely helpful.

Yet this was still an excellent showing from Raducanu, who had every right to lose, given that she had managed just seven competitive games on grass coming in.

By contrast Van Uytvanck had played 14 matches on the turf across four weeks, winning two titles at the lower end of the tour scale. One of them was the UK’s grass court curtain raiser down the road in Surbiton.

Given her ranking of 46, and the lowered seeding threshold due to the barring of players from Belarus, it was one of the toughest first round draws Raducanu could have had.

And playing on the Centre Court can be tricky for a British player if you are not used to it.

Raducanu showed steel and eventually managed to prevail to reach the second round

Nowhere does a well-meaning groan after a mistake like the biggest arena at SW19, and that can be debilitating. If it intimidates players from overseas it is often more through its history than any venom of produced by patriotic fervour.

That was certainly the case on Monday with it barely half full when they started, many patrons having taken extended advantage of the now statutory 20 minutes between matches.

Raducanu showed that, beneath her beatific smile, there is no shortage of steel to deal with this, and there was never any danger of last year on Court One repeating itself.

Far from being overwhelmed, an hour before the match she could be seen sitting calmly on the players’ lawn, chatting happily with her mother and the rest of her team.

Ever one to do things her own way, she later explained the status of Jane O’ Donoghue, who has taken a break from her job in the banking industry to help out with coaching over these weeks. Raducanu does not try to overstate her role.

‘We just sort of chat about life and everything. She’s always been there for me, just a great family friend,’ she said.

There was a lack of power at times, but Raducanu is determined to make further progress

Monday’s first set had been close to attritional, and when Raducanu mistakenly slumped into her chair at 0-1 in the second (not a proper changeover) you feared that she might be short on fuel.

Winning the last five games in coming back from 1-3 put paid to that and she is on her way.

Is it the start of some miraculous run all the way through to the end of the second week as was seen nine months ago?

On this evidence probably not, because at times there was a lack of power, perhaps a residual effect of last week’s limitations.

Whatever happens, having perspective helps: ‘I feel like I’ve learnt a lot in the last year,’ said Raducanu. ‘It hasn’t all been terrible. I won my first round at every Slam. As a 19-year-old, I pretty much just took my gap year and I’m starting again.’

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