US Open champion suffers humiliating loss in Sydney

SYDNEY: US Open champion Emma Raducanu’s Australian Open warm-up tournament lasted just 55 minutes after she was thrashed 6-0, 6-1 by Elena Rybakina at the Sydney International yesterday. The 19-year-old Raducanu took the tennis world by storm in September when she won the US Open as a qualifier. She opted not to play last week’s Melbourne Summer Set tournament after recovering from COVID-19, meaning her last chance for some match practice ahead of the Open was at this week’s Sydney Tennis Classic.

But she was blown off court by the powerful Rybakina, who finished runner-up to Ashleigh Barty at last week’s Adelaide International. The 1.80-metre tall Rybakina was superior in every department and had far too much firepower for Raducanu. Rybakina raced through the first set in 24 minutes without dropping a game and won the first three games of the second set before her opponent at last held serve. But that was simply a temporary reprieve, with Rybakina winning the next three games to underline her total dominance.

Earlier, Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic said she felt “a little bit wobbly” in her first match after COVID as she began her warm-up for the Australian Open with a low-key win. The 24-year-old Swiss cruised into the second round with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia. But Bencic, who contracted COVID in mid-December after competing at an Abu Dhabi exhibition, admitted she had not been at her best, with the first Grand Slam of the year starting on Monday.

“I was struggling a little bit, getting to practice after COVID because the pulse was getting up and the fatigue was still there,” said Bencic, a former world number four but now ranked 23rd. “I think I still have room to feel better and my fitness has to get better. “I still feel a little bit wobbly and so I think there is still potential, but I’m happy that I can play this tournament.” She will now take on Oceane Dodin of France in the next round. Dodin, a lucky loser from qualifying, beat Mexican doubles specialist Giuliana Olmos 6-4, 6-1. World number 20 Elise Mertens also moved through the first round with a comfortable 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) win over France’s Fiona Ferro.

The Belgian will take on Daria Kasatkina of Russia in the second round. But Jessica Pegula, ranked two places below Mertens at 22 in the world, was beaten by France’s Caroline Garcia 6-4, 7-6 (7/3). In the men’s draw, former world number one Andy Murray demolished Norwegian qualifier Viktor Durasovic 6-3, 6-1 in just 71 minutes. Murray, who was given a wildcard this week after his first-round loss in Melbourne last week, was far too strong for the erratic Durasovic, who hit 23 unforced errors to Murray’s seven.

The Scotsman, now ranked 135 in the world following a run of debilitating injuries going back to 2018, has also been given a wildcard to next week’s Australian Open, where he has been runner-up five times. He said the form he showed against Durasovic gave him confidence for the Open. “I believe I can have a good run there and who knows, if I can find a bit of form and the draw opens up?” the 34-year-old asked. Earlier, sixth seed Dusan Lajovic of Serbia was too strong for Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, winning 7-6 (7/5), 6-4.- AFP

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