Emma Raducanu rediscovered her sparkle on Centre Court, in every sense. She wore the bling, and then – by overcoming Alison Van Uytvanck in straight sets – she delivered the sting.
Kitted out in pearl earrings, a pendant necklace and a Tiffany bracelet, Raducanu resembled a woman on her way to a movie premiere. But her actual appointment was considerably more stressful, as she faced a talented Belgian shot-maker who had already won two grass-court titles this summer.
Raducanu had been short of practice time, thanks to the side strain she suffered at Nottingham on the first day of her own home season. She was understandably erratic in the early stages, particularly on her more vulnerable forehand side, which sprayed errors like confetti.
Yet Raducanu was desperate to deliver on her Centre Court debut, and she applied herself with a steely focus. Her game might not have clicked into place with the same precision as it did last summer, when she shocked everyone by reaching the fourth round here while ranked No 338 in the world. But she scrapped and sprinted, and surged for the line when she saw it, shovelling a two-handed volley into the open court to complete her 6-4, 6-4 victory in 1 hr 41 min.
After the match, Raducanu, who will play French world No 55 Caroline Garcia in the second round, showed up for her press conference in a shirt featuring Rafael Nadal’s “raging bull” logo, and then told reporters that she had taken inspiration from Nadal’s never-say-die mentality.
“Rafa just embodies fight, that sort of energy,” said Raducanu. “That’s what I’m bringing in. I didn’t play tennis for two weeks. Then this week I’ve hit like an hour a day. My preparation wasn’t necessarily the greatest. But I know that when it comes to the matches, I feel like I really switch on. I don’t feel like I need a massive amount of preparation. I think a lot of it is mental, and I definitely went out with the belief today.”
This was the Briton’s first straight-sets win at a major since September’s US Open final. Perhaps it was no coincidence that it came at Wimbledon, because she seemed to feed off the fans’ desperate well-wishing. “I’ve felt people behind me,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘Emma, you’ve got this!’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this!’ ”
It is not always easy to draw positive energy from a home crowd. There are many fine players who find the expectation inhibiting rather than inspiring. And there was an unusual sense of fan anxiety on Centre Court.
They whimpered audibly in the middle of rallies, and they groaned in despair whenever Raducanu missed a clear opening. Even the line judges were affected by the mounting tension, committing three clear errors that had to be overturned by Hawk-Eye.
The lines of Raducanu’s stylish outfit were slightly distorted by a wad of heavy strapping around her left side. She started off serving cautiously, and her groundstrokes also had a tentative feeling. The first set drifted along slowly for half a dozen games. For all Raducanu’s obvious rustiness, she kept herself on track: a woman picking her way down a slippery path on a moonless night The nail-chewing Centre Court crowd began to breathe slightly more easily when she broke in the seventh game, bringing up the opportunity with a rifled backhand return winner.
It seems daft to call this shot a return to vintage form when we are talking about a 19-year-old who won a major just nine months ago. But that is how it felt. Raducanu has struggled to rediscover those standards this year, partly through a series of physical ailments. In the circumstances, it was thrilling to see her revisit one of her favourite plays.
From here on in, there were more breaks than you might find at your local A&E department. Van Uytvanck’s first serve can be pacy, reaching a top speed of 113mph. But every time she missed it, you could almost see her gulp at the prospect of Raducanu chewing up her second serve.
Raducanu’s support team will have been particularly chuffed by the way she finished so strongly, reeling off five of the last six games after going a break down in the second set. For a woman whose physicality has been an ongoing concern, that was an encouraging sign.
But then grass-court tennis is generally easier on the joints and the lungs than other forms of the game. The mind is where the battle is really fought, and that is where Raducanu showed her class here. It would have been so easy to panic in front of all the cameras and all the anxious fans.
Instead, Britain’s leading lady shone in the limelight once again.
Emma Raducanu beats Alison Van Uytvanck: As it happened
Emma Raducanu speaks
It's an incredibly special feeling to be back here at Wimbledon. I felt the support the minute I walked out of the doors and when walking around the grounds. I want to thank you all for your incredible support. It's all worth it to play on centre court and especially to come through with a win.
Alison is an extremely tricky opponent. Especially on grass when the ball stays so low. It's tough to neutralise such a hard, fast, serve.
I'm pleased to get through it and look forward to playing in front of you guys again.
To come and play here is extremely special and this club is amazing. I'm just happy to stay another day.
Raducanu* 6-4, 6-4 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Van Uytvanck drives a forehand long to make it 15-love. Raducanu finishes the next rally with a brute of a backhand winner from the centre mark to the limit of her opponent's ad court. Van Uytvanck pulls a backhand into the net. Three match points.
She can't convert the first but doesn't need a third invitation, winning the match with a deft backhand volley.
Game, set and match Raducanu. Great grit and intelligence.
Raducanu 6-4, 5-4 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
The two adopt gunslinging poses to ping forehands at each other but Van Uytvanck wins the rally to move 30-15 ahead. Then Raducanu defends brilliantly to draw two errors to earn a break point, one on forehand one on back and then Van Uytvanck double faults at break point. Raducanu will serve for the match.
Raducanu is the problem solver par excellence, finding her rhythm, thinking clearly under pressure, her return getting stronger with each game.
Raducanu* 6-4, 4-4 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Raducanu and Van Uytvanck trade drops shots at the net but the Belgian puts too much on he forehand pass. There's an audible gasp from the crowd when Raducanu pumps a forehand into the net and a raucous cheer when she aces the next to make it 30-all. A wonderful backhand crosscourt drive with slice and an unreturnable serve clinch the game for Raducanu.
Raducanu 6-4, 3-4 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
We lose coverage of a couple of points while the BBC switches channels to show the news on BBC One. Van Uytvanck holds to 15, closing it out with a blistering forehand winner, hit with the racket at seven o-clock on the dial, down by her feet.
Raducanu* 6-4, 3-3 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Raducanu goes back to that surgical inquisition of Van Uytvanvck's forehand, winning the first point on that side then pushing her over gradually to her backhand wing and messing with her timing with spin and bounce. Van Uytvanck smears another baseline forehand too long and Raducanu holds to love when the Belgian flays a backhand out of bounds.
Raducanu 6-4, 2-3 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
It's Raducanu's turn to go on to the front foot and races to love-40 with some withering groundstrokes and she only needs one of the break points when Van Uytvanck makes an appalling error with an overhead, smacking it long. She's as gritty as anything and that break-back is further evidence of that.
Some rain about.
Raducanu* 6-4, 1-3 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
From love-30, Raducanu exploits a couple of forehand errors from Van Uytvanck to tie it up at 30-all. But then Van Uytvanck plays the most wonderful cross court volley winner to earn break point which she converts after a terrific rally with a spanking top-spun forehand winner up the line.
Raducanu 6-4, 1-2 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
We stay on serve after a second successive comfortable hold. Here's a BBC graphic showing the difference between where Raducanu stands for first and second serves. When Van Uytvanck nails her first serve, as she did in his game, she is dangerous. But Raducanu is killing her second serve.
Raducanu* 6-4, 1-1 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Perfect response from Raducanu after the marathon that preceded it, holding to love and unreeling a gorgeous, running, forehand, cross-court winner at 40-love to clinch it.
Raducanu 6-4, 0-1 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
A double fault, her second, leaves Van Uytvanck quaking at love-30 and then Raducanu smkes a backhand winner up the line. Three break points. The first one slips by with a shanked forehand and Van Uytvanck defends the second on her second serve. The third disappears when Raducanu ropes her forehand return too long.
But she earns herself another at deuce when she powers a couple of forehand cross-courts. She can't take it, though, failing to get enough height on her lob and then netting her baseline forehand when Van Uytvanck scuffed her overhead.
Another AVU double fault brings them back to deuce after a Raducanu error and she then has a fifth break point that AVU defends at the net. At advantage-Raducanu and then again at deuce Raducanu nets a couple of backhands but then nails the lob to bring it back down to deuce. Great touch
Van Uytvanck pulls a forehand long and Raducanu has a 10th break point of the match which disappears when she whips a forehand crosscourt from the right wing of the court into the net. Another unforced error makes it advantage Van Uytvanck but she cannot seal the hold (just yet?) when she too rushes a forehand. She makes amends with a forehand winner from the centre to the right then pushes Raducanu deep enough to lob which she loops too long.
Just yelled “Go on, lad” at my television after Raducanu won that first set, happy first day of Wimbledon to all who celebrate
— Ella Brockway (@ellabrockway) June 27, 2022
Raducanu* 6-4 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Van Uytvanck gets her forehand working to move to love-30 but Raducanu wins the first service point for a couple of games by going wide with her serve. An incorrect call of out on Raducanu's backhand drive was immediately overruled by the chair and they play a let at 15-30.
Van Uytvanck has two break points following a backhand up the middle that Raducanu can't keep in. The British No1 defends the first with a vicious wide serve and the second with a withering backhand. Van Uytvanck tried to chip a drop shot over the net but put it into it instead. Deuce.
A forehand drive earns Raducanu set point but she can't control Van Uytvanck's slice when she drops to one knee and fores a backhand into the net. Deuce x 2.
Set point No2 is earned when she pushes Van Uytanck deep in her forehand court and her opponent drags her forehand long and then closes out the hold to win the set after Van Uytvanck fades her backhand crosscourt into the net.
Raducanu 5-4 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
Excellent athleticism and touch at the net, followed by a couple of spiffing backhands take Raducanu to love-40. See saw. She only needs one, Van Uytvanck spearing a baseline forehand too long. Raducanu has the break back, no hyphen, and will serve for the set.
Raducanu* 4-4 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
The new balls play to Van Uytvanck's strengths at the start of the game. Raducanu loses the first two points and then the big slice from the Belgian gives her three break points. Raducanu's first serve is creaking. And she hooks a backhand wide at love-40 to let her opponent seal the immediate break-back.
Raducanu 4-3 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
The blood and the confidence is flowing for Raducanu, pinning Van Uytanck on her forehand wing until it cracks and then she makes it love-30 when the Belgian makes a mistake with a backhand volley, patting it too long.
A sizzling backhand crosscourt winner with her return takes Raducanu to 15-40 and she only needs one, breaking serve when Van Uytvanck double faults.
Raducanu* 3-3 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Very good tactically from Raducanu to close out the hold to 15. Three points were won by targeting Alison VU's forehand and the fourth with an ace.
Raducanu 2-3 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
Van Uytvanck holds to 30. She looks brilliant on her backhand side. No wonder Raducanu is hitting deep to her forehand which is enough for a couple of points but no more.
Raducanu* 2-2 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Raducanu has had a terrific reception but now the 'Come on Emma!' cries start in earnest when she nails her first ace, which her opponent challenged. It was just kissing the limit but legal nonetheless. Van Uytvanck's backhand is very dangerous, setting up a volleyed winner at the net after smoking a backhand with wicket slice to make it 40-30. No sweat though as Raducanu nails a serve that kicks and her opponent cannot get it back on to her side of the net.
Raducanu 1-2 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
After two marathon games, Van Uytvanck closes out the hold to love in a little over a minute. One lovely backhand winner shows how formidable an opponent she is all around the court.
Raducanu* 1-1 Van Uytvanck (*denotes server)
Raducanu recovers from love-15 to 30-15 when Van Uytvanck errs on both sides. Raducanu is getting a lot of height on her top-spun forehands. Wouldn't she be happier with them closer to the tape? A double fault ties it up at 30-all but Raducanu drives a backhand at Van Uytvanck's forehand and she cannot cope with the power. A big, risky forehand winner comes off for Van Uytvanck to tie it up at deuce and then she has a break point when Raducanu hooks a backhand wide.
Raducanu defends the break point, Van Uytvanck chipping a drop shot into the net and then moves to a game point of her own with a hooping crosscourt forehand. But she cannot cope with Van Uytvanck's big slice forehand and she is brought back to deuce.
A cute drop shot to go to advantage is followed by a pair of forehand errors and now it's advantage to Van Uytvanck. Can she take it and break? Not this one, she pulls a crosscourt two-fisted backhand wide. But she'll get another chance after a drop volley winner. Raducanu defends it with a blistering backhand. We go beyond 10 minutes on the game clock for the return to deuce. And this time she closes out the hold by forcing Van Uytvanck deep then forcing her to make 10 yards to come to the net and she cannot get there.
Raducanu 0-1 Van Uytvanck* (*denotes server)
Van Uytvanck won the toss and serves first, moving to 15-love with a serve-volley approach and doubles her lead when Raducanu frames a forehand from the centre mark. Huge cheer greets Raducanu winning the next two points on her forehand, eliciting errors from Van Uytvanck's own forehand. Slow start but goodness, Raducanu's aggression pays off when she climbs into Van Uytvanck's second serve to rope a crosscourt winner. Break point - well defended by the Belgian.
She earns a second break point when Van Uytvanck drags a forehand wide but she can't nail a drop shot by her feet to win the game and it reverts to deuce when she chips it wide into the tramlines. Two steps forward, two steps back. AVU moves to advantage and back to deuce, then fires in an ace to move to advantage again and digs deep to hold when Raducana chops her forehand return into the net.
Raducanu and Van Uytvanck are out on court
Tracy Austin says she does not envy Raducanu, that she has the weight of expectation on her shoulders and piles even more pressure on herself. Tim Henman says she is losing matches because she has not had time to build up her resilience and physicality given she is only one year out of school. "It's not her tennis, it's her physicality that is causing her problems." It takes time to do that and with her injuries and Covid she just hasn't been able to kick on this year.
John McEnroe will make his BBC tournament debut
For the Raducanu match. At the moment he is joshing Sue Barker over her decision to retire after this year's championship, saying both him and Tim Henman have always said, 'if she goes, we go'. Farewell one, farewell all.
Novak Djokovic is through to the second round
After beating Kwan Soon-woo 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The roof is opening and Emma Raducanu will be on court in the next few minutes.
Welcome to coverage of the first women's singles match of the 2022 championships to be staged on Centre Court. Emma Raducanu, the No10 seed, who is, if you hadn't heard, the US Open champion, takes on Alison van Uytvanck, a hard court specialist and world No46 from Belgium.
So far this season Raducanu has suffered blisters on hands and feet, a leg injury, a side strain and a back problem, all of which have contributed to retirements and defeats. There will, of course, be an enormous outpouring of goodwill and affection for her at Wimbledon, where she is playing for the first time since last year's retirement from her fourth-round match, but also a great deal of concern about her physical durability. There will be plenty of onlookers, too, who are hopeful her struggles will confirm their self-image as the little boy in the Emperor's New Clothes, glorying in schadenfreude and neglecting the fact she is 19.
Van Uytvanck has previous for upsetting the odds, knocking out defending champion Garbine Muguruza, a victory that inspired 'The Kiss'. Making the second week for the first time, she departed after a fourth-round defeat by Daria Kasatkina. Van Uytvanck had a rotten draw last year, coming up against Elina Svitolina in the first round but she took the second set off the No3 seed and ran her close. Raducanu certainly rates her as a serious threat: “She’s a real tricky opponent, especially on grass courts. I think this surface definitely suits her well. She plays a pretty quick, high-tempo game. It’s definitely going to take some getting used to, being prepared for that straightaway. It’s definitely going to be a tough matchup, but every match is at this level. I’m still ready to go.”
As for Raducanu, she is feeling only positive vibes from practice. "This year I get such a special feeling walking around the grounds," she said. "I definitely feel that people are behind me. Even from some of the people working on the tournament, they're like, 'You got this'. Just cheering me on. That's pretty special in itself.
"I feel like last year I came straight out of my exams, I was fresh, ready to play. I feel the same excitement this year, because I think Wimbledon just brings that out of me especially. But I'm definitely looking forward to it. Just going to play like a kid who just loves playing tennis. It's always my dream to step out on Centre Court. It's something I've always wanted to do and started playing tennis for.
"I take whatever feeling as positive. I think people are going to be behind me and cheering me on. There's nothing sort of negative about that. They want you to do well. I'm looking forward to going out there and experiencing that and feeling that."