Emma Raducanu beats weather to win first singles match of 2023

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Former U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu overcame wind and rain in a match which stretched over almost four hours to beat Linda Fruhvirtova 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in her first singles match of 2023 at the ASB Classic.

The match was twice interrupted by rain and the second delay in the deciding set forced the players from the court for almost an hour.

Raducanu returned to take charge by immediately breaking the 17-year-old Fruhvirtova for a 2-0 lead and going on to serve for the match at 5-0.

Fruhvirtova broke back for 5-1, then saved four match points on serve in a tenacious attempt to keep the contest alive.

Raducanu fell behind 0-30 in her next service game but recovered with a series of big serves and finally secured the win in just under 2 1-2 hours of court time, not counting delays.

“I think it’s like four hours later. Honestly, I don’t know what time it is anymore,” Raducanu said. “What a battle. Linda is such a great young player and it was a different dynamic for me because usually I’m the younger one. Going into this match she is and she’s going to be up there for sure, she already is.”

Raducanu, who is 20, was playing her first competitive match in 2 1-2 months and had to fight hard against the Czech teenager, who won a tight first set in 53 minutes.

The first and shorter rain delay came at 4-4 in the first set. Fruhvirtova took an early 2-0 lead in the second set but Raducanu broke back for 2-2 and went on to take the set in 46 minutes.

The second rain break came with Raducanu leading 1-0 in the third set. She won the next four games and eventually the match with a marked lift in aggression. While her serve was strong, her return of serve was decisive and she won 65% of points of Fruhvirtova’s second serve.

Top-seeded American Coco Gauff also had to contend with two lengthy rain delays before beating Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-4, 6-1.

The seventh-ranked Gauff had let slip a 4-0 lead in the first set and Maria was serving at 4-3 when a cloudburst forced the players from the court. Play resumed briefly and Gauff improved her lead to 5-4 when the second rain break occurred.

Gauff returned to win six straight games to open a 5-0 lead in the second set before Maria held serve again. Gauff calmly served out the match for her first win of the year.

“Honestly, like it wasn’t tough because I was expecting (the rain) to happen,” Gauff said. “In between the rain delays I got a bit of help from my coach.

“But I’m from Florida and we’re kinda used to the stop start, stop start. It’s the tropical weather.”

Raducanu’s second-round opponent will be Slovakia qualifier Viktoria Kuzmova, who upset fourth-seeded Bernarda Pera 6-4, 6-4.

Kuzmova took advantage of a strong first serve to win key points in a tight contest while Pera, the Croatia-born American, struggled in windy conditions and had nine double faults.

After winning the first set, Kuzmova dropped 3-0 behind in the second before reeling off five straight games. She had two match points on Pera’s serve at 5-3 but the 44th-ranked Pera saved both. She saved two more as Kuzmova served for the match at 5-4, finally clinching the match with her ninth ace.

“In this type of weather when it’s really windy I knew everything is possible,” Kuzmova said. “I just tried to stay positive and go for every ball and I’m very happy that I won the second set.”

Jabeur bounces back at French Open, Ruud and Andreeva advance

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PARIS — Ons Jabeur got a do-over on Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open and won this time.

A year after her first-round exit, the No. 7 seed Jabeur beat Lucia Bronzetti 6-4, 6-1 to help erase some bad memories and answer questions about a recent calf injury.

The Tunisian, a crowd favorite in Paris, smiled and expressed relief in not repeating last year’s mistake, when she lost to Magda Linette of Poland.

“I’m very happy to win my first match on Philippe Chatrier – because I’ve never won here,” Jabeur said on court about the clay-court tournament’s main stadium.

Now she can focus on trying to win her first major. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.

The 28-year-old Jabeur has also battled injuries this season. She had knee surgery after the Australian Open, and was then sidelined with a calf injury. She had stopped playing against top-ranked Iga Swiatek at the clay-court tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, in late April and then pulled out of the Madrid Open.

“It was a very difficult period for me after Stuttgart,” said Jabeur, adding that she’s beginning to find her rhythm.

Jabeur struck 27 winner’s to Bronzetti’s seven, though with 24 unforced errors she’ll have room to improve.

Mirra Andreeva had a memorable Grand Slam debut by dominating Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-2, 6-1. Andreeva’s older sister – 18-year-old Erika – was facing Emma Navarro later in the day.

Later, Swiatek gets her French Open title defense started against Cristina Bucsa, who is ranked 70th.

On the men’s side, No. 4 seed Casper Ruud beat qualifier Elias Ymer 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to remind the higher-profile tournament favorites that he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal last year at Roland Garros.

New mom Elina Svitolina beats seeded player at French Open in 1st Slam match in 16 months

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PARIS — So much has changed for Elina Svitolina, who played – and won – her first Grand Slam match in nearly 1 1/2 years at the French Open, eliminating 2022 semifinalist Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-2.

For one thing, she’s now a mother: Svitolina and her husband, French tennis player Gael Monfils, welcomed their daughter, Skaï, in October. For another, Svitolina is now ranked 192nd, nowhere near the career high of No. 3 she first reached in 2017, back in the days when she was regularly reaching the second weeks of major tournaments – including a pair of semifinal runs. Away from the courts, her home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russia last year, and the war continues.

“Everything,” she said, “is kind of old and new for me right now.”

In sum, Svitolina is juggling a lot nowadays.

She hadn’t played at a Slam since a third-round exit at the Australian Open in January 2022. She hadn’t played a match anywhere since March 2022, when she was still ranked 20th.

“It was always in my head … to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” the 28-year-old Svitolina said.

The work to return to the tour after giving birth began this January; her initial WTA match came at Charleston, South Carolina, in April. She won her first title since returning to action, at a smaller event on red clay in Strasbourg, France.

At Roland Garros, she used her big forehand to compile a 20-12 edge in winners and never faced a single break point against Trevisan, who was seeded 26th.

Trevisan cried as she spoke after the match about a problem with her right foot that made it difficult to even walk and prompted her to stop playing during her quarterfinal last week at the Morocco Open, where she was the defending champion.

Still, she gave Svitolina credit.

“Even though she’s just coming back from having a daughter, she’s a champion,” Trevisan said. “And she’s coming off a title, so she’s confident.”

Svitolina talked about feeling “awful when you’re pregnant, especially the last months,” but getting into a position now where she thinks she’s stronger than before – in more ways than one.

“I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court and, match by match, I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental (state) can influence your physicality, as well,” she said. “I tried to find the balance, and I feel like I’m seeing (things) a little bit again differently as well after the break. Everything is getting there. The puzzles are getting slowly into place.”