Emma Raducanu got off to a winning start in Abu Dhabi as she ousted Marie Bouzkova to advance to the second round. The 21-year-old had a shaky start before storming through to defeat the world No. 36 6-4 6-1. She will now face second seed Ons Jabeur in a mouthwatering showdown.
Raducanu stepped onto the court after 9pm local time after what had been a marathon opening day in Abu Dhabi, with the first three matches all going beyond two hours. Playing in just the third tournament of her comeback, the Brit came up against world No. 36 Bouzkova for the first time.
It was a nervy start for both women with six breaks of serve in the first seven games. It took 40 minutes for Raducanu to hold serve for the first time as she levelled at 4-4. With Bouzkova struggling to win points on her serve, the British No. 8 pounced to break again and won her fourth game in a row to close out a rollercoaster first set 6-4.
Bouzkova saved a break point to end Raducanu’s run of games, getting on the board to start the second set. But the former US Open champion continued to put pressure on her opponent and was rewarded with another break to take a 2-1 lead.
Raducanu continued to improve as the second set went on, showing signs of the form that helped her win a Grand Slam title as a qualifier. She barely put a foot wrong, breaking Bouzkova two more times to secure the victory in just an hour and 22 minutes.
It was a statement performance for the world No. 296, who fired down 23 winners to 16 unforced errors, making just three mistakes in the second set. After the match, Raducanu said: “I warmed up so many times today but I was here since 2 so it was a pretty long wait, especially for you guys for waiting for us to play. So thank you for toughing it out and it was great to see you.”
Addressing her slow start, the Brit added: “I think in the beginning I was just adjusting to the speed of the court. I hadn’t played on this court this year yet. I was kind of just adjusting, it was pretty quick and also more still than it had been for the week because it’s been very windy so it’s a different tempo.
“But Marie is a really tough opponent. I knew that going in, I was going to have to play so many balls and I think in the beginning I was missing a few of the finishing shots but I cleaned that up so I’m very happy about that and very happy to be back in Abu Dhabi.”
Raducanu will now have a tough test as she faces world No. 6 Jabeur in the second round. The Tunisian is an overwhelming crowd favourite when she plays the Middle East. While they have never faced off on the tour, they contested an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2022.
It was Jabeur who came through in a decisive match tiebreak, winning 5-7 6-3 [10-8]. The second seed is looking to bounce back after suffering a disappointing second-round defeat at the Australian Open. Raducanu, meanwhile, will be hoping to keep her comeback going with a statement victory after going 2-2 in her first two tournaments.