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11 Jan, 2022 12:25

Smiling Raducanu avoids complete humiliation but still gets thrashed by Kazakh rival (VIDEO)

US Open champion Emma Raducanu began her season with a heavy defeat
Smiling Raducanu avoids complete humiliation but still gets thrashed by Kazakh rival (VIDEO)

British teenager Emma Raducanu afforded herself a smile as she avoided a whitewash but still suffered a big defeat against Russian-born Kazakh star Elena Rybakina at the Sydney International.

Raducanu, 19, was returning to competitive action for the first time in 2022 but endured a straight-sets thrashing at the hands of the powerful Rybakina in less than an hour at the Ken Rosewall Arena at Sydney’s Olympic Park.

The Brit was overwhelmed 6-0 6-1 by her ninth-seeded opponent in just 55 minutes of play.

Raducanu did at least avoid the ultimate tennis ignominy of a 6-0 6-0 defeat – known as a ‘double bagel’ – by notching a game in the second set, leading to her giving a wry smile and fist-pump in the direction of her team.

But it was nonetheless a galling way to start the season for Raducanu less than one week before the Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne.

The youngster stunned the world at the final Grand Slam of last year when she emerged from qualifying to win the US Open – becoming the first British woman in 44 years to win a Major singles title.

Since then, Raducanu has been on a steep learning curve as she aims to cement her status among the women’s elite while being feted as a national hero in the UK and having lucrative sponsorship deals bestowed on her. 

Known for her big hitting, world number 13 Rybakina handed her another lesson on Tuesday, although some onlookers defended Raducanu by saying the match provided a brush with the kind of power she had yet to experience in her nascent career.

Others attempted to frame the lopsided loss as a natural part of Canadian-born Raducanu’s developmental process, noting that her US Open triumph was a once-in-a-lifetime upset.

Raducanu’s end to the year was disrupted by a positive Covid test which saw her withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Dubai in December – a result which also saw the teen pull out of last week’s season-opening Melbourne Summer Set event Down Under as she felt it was still “too soon” to return.

Tuesday’s return and heavy defeat was Raducanu’s first match under new coach Torben Beltz, and the German will hope he and his charge can turn things around sufficiently quickly for the teen to make inroads at the Australian Open.

Rybakina, 22, marches on to face France’s Caroline Garcia in the Round of 32 in Sydney.

The Moscow-born star has made a strong start to 2022 after reaching the final at the Adelaide International last weekend, where she was beaten by home favorite and world number one Ash Barty.