Emma Raducanu enjoyed her center court debut as she put her rocky Wimbledon build-up behind her with a first-round win over Alison Van Uytvanck.
The 10th seed’s participation in the tournament was in doubt until the weekend because of a side strain suffered at the WTA Tour event in Nottingham three weeks ago.
Coupled with the huge attention on the US Open champion’s return home and a tough opponent, this was a big test, but Raducanu passed it impressively as he claimed a 6-4 6-4 victory.
She jumped up and squealed in delight as her final volley found mid-court and Raducanu made a point of emphasizing afterwards that while the external expectations on her shoulders extend far beyond first-round wins, this was an achievement to be cherished.
“It wasn’t relief, it was just happiness,” she said. “Playing center court and getting a win the first time is amazing. Now every time I come back I will have a great first experience. It always helps.
“I definitely accepted. I looked at the crowd, just saw everyone. The noise was incredible to hear from the word go. When the crowd filled up a little as the match progressed, even more so in difficult moments. I think they really pulled me through some tough ones.
“It was a complicated match because Alison is a great opponent. She hits the ball very low and flat, and it definitely suits this surface. I knew that to get in I would have to play well. I’m glad I got through the hard times.”
While the 19-year-old gave an optimistic assessment of her fitness and mentality at her Saturday press conference, the stress of a match, particularly a high-level one, is inevitably different from practice.
Van Uytvanck was certainly not the kindest draw Raducanu could have received, with the 46th-ranked Belgian clinching a grass court title last weekend – albeit at second division level – in Italy as she defeated defending champions Garbine. Muguruza on his way to the fourth round in 2018.
Both women saved break points in two long opening games, but Raducanu, who was finding some backhand winners, got the better of three straight breaks and then saved two more break points before serving the first set.
She dropped six break points in the opening game of the second set and trailed 3-1, but hit back immediately and it was encouraging that, unlike her opponent, Raducanu held out when she had to.
“I haven’t played tennis for two weeks, so this week I hit an hour a day,” she said. “My preparation was not necessarily the best.
“But I know that when it comes to matches, I feel like I’m really turned on. I don’t feel like I need a huge amount of preparation. Of course, I do to build physically.
“I think a lot of this is mental, and I definitely came out with the belief today. I know I can compete with anyone on the other side of the court when I really go for it.”
Raducanu walked into his post-game press conference wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Rafael Nadal’s horned logo and is drawing inspiration from the Spaniard’s heroism this season.
“I think Rafa embodies the struggle, that kind of energy,” said the 19-year-old, who plays Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia.
“That’s what I’m bringing. I think I’ve had a difficult year, it’s no secret. Anything goes to go out on center court and get a win like that.
“I’m definitely very happy to be here. All the lessons I learned in the past year will only keep me in a good position for the future.”