Emma Raducanu says she is still “managing” the back problem she sustained last week in Madrid and the various niggles that have come with her first season on tour as she prepares for the Italian Open, which gets under way on Monday.
“I think it’s just coming from a lot of intensity and overload,” Raducanu said. “My back, I’m managing it. Like it’s fine. But it’s just trying to adapt again to the long matches, to the intensity. I think that all of the small sort of niggles I’m getting, they’re all related and connected to each other, when something is overcompensating perhaps. Yeah, we’ll see. ”
Raducanu had earlier played out a practice set with Veronika Kudermetova of Russia in the shadow of Rome’s vast Central Court. Between points, she and Iain Bates, the Lawn Tennis Association’s head of women’s tennis, discussed technique and tactics along with her longtime physio, Tom Cornish. They also laughed together after wild misses and spectacular winners alike.
Their jovial mood starkly contrasted with the impassive demeanor of Kudermetova and her husband-coach, Sergei Demekhine, across the net, but even through the laughter it was noticeable how many times Raducanu reached for her back. She may not be fully fit, but one of the realities of professional tennis is that most players are carrying some sort of niggle. She plays on.
Raducanu arrives in Rome having performed above expectations so far in her first clay court season, winning two matches in both Stuttgart and Madrid. This is Raducanu’s first time seeing the picturesque Foro Italico – uncomfortably once known as Foro Mussolini – and the courts themselves will be a different challenge altogether. Stuttgart, played indoors on courts infused with oil, and Madrid, where the ball flies at altitude, are some of the fastest clay court conditions on tour and helpful for players who have honed their games on faster surfaces.
Rome is far closer to what people typically think of as clay court conditions: thick, heavy surfaces that smother the ball and slow it down, promoting long, attritional rallies and forcing players to outmanoeuvre their opponents instead of hitting through them. That was not lost on Raducanu despite being in Rome for just a couple of days.
“I think here is completely opposite,” she said. “It’s quite heavy and slow, so there’s going to be a lot longer points. It will be interesting to see what the differences are. But I can already feel them on the tennis-wise court. ”
She will continue her adjustments in a fascinating first-round match, with Raducanu and Bianca Andreescu facing each other for the first time. The winner could face an even bigger second-round match, with Naomi Osaka or Sara Sorribes-Tormo next.
Before Raducanu won the US Open at 18 in 2021, Andreescu was the sensational breakthrough story on the women’s tour, triumphing at the US Open in 2019 as a 19-year-old, beating Serena Williams in the final after winning two WTA 1000 finals. Both have Romanian heritage and they have naturally been compared to each other, but Andreescu now stands as an example of just how difficult following up a first major victory can be.
After her various physical issues, Andreescu is only just returning during the clay season after a six-month mental-health break. “Of course, we are both pretty good players,” Raducanu said. “It’s going to be a good match-up, for sure. She’s a great athlete and obviously a champion. She’s got a really good attitude. Yeah, I think it’s going to be interesting. ”
As Raducanu discussed the match-up to come, she spoke enthusiastically about the preparation for Andreescu and how independent her scouting process is now that she is without a permanent coach. To Raducanu, that independent streak is reflected off the court.
“I’d describe myself as a loner,” she said, laughing. “No, I mean, I do like being on my own, but of course I love being in groups as well. I can easily and very happily spend a lot of time on my own. I think it’s something that is off-court as well as on-court. ”