Not much screaming this time, just wincing. And each time Emma Raducanu looked gingerly at her right hand, a nation felt her pain, too.
Not literally, of course. We’ve all had blisters, but not the way a tennis player has blisters. Marin Cilic broke down and cried in the middle of the 2017 men’s final at Wimbledon, over blisters.
It isn’t as simple as putting a plaster on, when your whole job is about whiplash-fast, athletic movement. Raducanu was very gutsy with it, actually, but ultimately the blister defeated her. So did the world No 98, Danka Kovinic from Montenegro, who enters round three of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Emma Raducanu is out of the Australian Open after losing in the second round on Thursday
The US Open champion was hampered from early on with a finger blister on her right hand
It is hard to imagine how that might have happened with Raducanu at full strength. But the US Open champion was greatly diminished by the biggest of the little things. A crease in her right hand, hard to get to, was open and raw.
Some in her team thought she should pull out prior to the match. Raducanu wanted to soldier on. This was her first Australian Open and she was not going to wimp out. Within five games, though, she was plainly in trouble.
The blister was on her serving hand, her forehand. So while the plaster covering it was little, the blister itself was big. Huge, really, in the way it threw Raducanu off-kilter. She raced to a 3-0 first-set lead, as she had against Sloane Stephens in the first round, gave two games back and called a medical time-out. That’s never a good sign so early in a match but when it became obvious what the ailment was, there were immediate fears.
Andy Murray has spoken of playing with the pain of blisters and how most professionals will have to deal with them at some time over a career. The issue becomes as much mental as physical. How to compartmentalise the pain. How to prevent it from overwhelming your game.
Yet Murray is a veteran. Raducanu is in her teens. This is her first full season on tour. She will never have been forced to cope with such a slight injury that feels so completely impairing. It’s only a blister? Try telling that to someone whose whole job relies on touch, feel, subtlety and power and now cannot grip the tool properly.
World No 98 Danka Kovinic eventually came through 6-4 4-6 6-3 to reach the third round
The British No 1 played with just a slice on the forehand-side for the majority of the contest
For that is what happened to Raducanu. She stopped playing her game, stopped holding the racket firmly, became limited in the shots she could play. She stopped playing power forehands and instead leant heavily, repeatedly, almost exclusively into a tricky forehand slice. And as Kovinic is a player who likes to rally at length from the baseline, there was an awful lot of painful back and forth.
We knew it was painful because every now and then, between points, Raducanu would look at her right hand as if trying to think of a solution that was not grimacing her way through it. Still she stayed out there for 22 minutes shy of three hours, fighting.
And still celebrated fiercely when she won points. Still screamed in elation if she came out on top in a tight one, still fought with all her warrior heart for a place in the next round. And she came close, too.
She won the second set without a forehand, which was remarkable no matter the opponent, and started promisingly in the decider, too. Kovinic saved one break point in her first service game, and two in the next, and perhaps that resilience ultimately wore Raducanu down. She couldn’t keep going to the well of reserve, physical and mental. Couldn’t keep surmounting this mountainous molehill of her injury.
The loss marks the first time the 19-year-old has lost a completed match at a Grand Slam
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As the match slipped away from her, there were a couple of games in which the spirit seemed to have left, too. It was a great pity to watch. Cynics will read all manner of negativity into a second-round exit in her first Grand Slam after the US Open triumph, yet there was a lot more right about Raducanu here than wrong.
She showed adaptability, courage and game intelligence. She did her damnedest in the face of adversity. And if she has demonstrated signs of struggle since that momentous day in New York, yesterday’s defeat must be set against the debilitating mitigation of an injured hand and a pre-tournament spell of Covid that kept her out for three weeks.
Those who argue a blister is nothing have probably never had to deal with anything remotely like it in an elite, athletic context. They don’t understand.
It was puzzling for Kovinic, too, and she admitted as much. Every now and then, Raducanu would tear into a forehand, because the point was there to be won. Then she would go back to nursing her injury. ‘I got confused,’ Kovinic admitted. ‘Could she play, could she not play?’
Undoubtedly in the second set that Raducanu won 6-4, her opponent failed to take advantage of the situation. Too often she would play to the Raducanu backhand, which seemed largely unaffected. ‘When I started focusing on my game and not worrying about her, it got better,’ Kovinic said. That was in the final set, won 6-3.
Radcanu called for a medical time-out early in the first set as she got her finger strapped up
Kovinic took the first set after winning six games in a row to take the opener in Melbourne
Raducanu somehow won the second set despite her injury and couldn't help but laugh at times
Later, Raducanu explained the gory details. ‘It’s just the position of it,’ she said. ‘It’s right in the crease of the palm, it’s so deep. I just can’t grip the racket. Like every time I hit, every time I make contact with the ball, it creates an impact. If I hit one slightly off centre and the racket moves a bit in my hand, it’s even more friction and it rips again. So it’s very painful, every single shot I hit.
‘I have been struggling with blisters since I started playing in Australia because 21 days with no tennis, my hands got pretty soft. From day one, I was getting blisters. This particular one has been with me for about five days, and I have been trying to tape it for every practice. It would harden and dry out, but then once I played again, another layer would just rip off. It’s just in a very awkward position that’s difficult to tape.
‘We have tried so many different alternatives, and they all end up falling off or leaving me with no feel of my racket. I fought so hard just to come out and play here, I didn’t want to go out like that.’
The teenager battled through the contest by hitting mostly slices on the forehand side
So she struggled on, even if the end was maybe even a blessed relief. Next up, it transpires, would have been former world No 1 Simona Halep.
‘Yeah, I don’t think you’re getting very far against Simona with only a slice forehand,’ Raducanu added. ‘I’m not going to lie.’
It was not what she hoped Australia was going to be, but it was not the rude awakening it may appear on paper. New York was no fluke. We have one here. We have a player. She will get harder in time; like her shell, like her skin.
It marks the first time Raducanu has lost a completed Grand Slam match in her career
RE-LIVE ALL THE ACTION WITH SPORTSMAIL'S KIERAN JACKSON
The winning moment:
History maker 🇲🇪@DankaKovinic upsets Emma Raducanu 6-4 4-6 6-3 to become the first player representing Montenegro to reach the third round of a Grand Slam.January 20, 2022
Tennis correspondent Mike Dickson:
Emma Raducanu out of the Aus Open, beaten 6-3 in decider by Danka Kovinic. Blister somewhat affected ER, who was studying a year ago. It won't be her last tough learning of the season.— Mike Dickson (@Mike_Dickson_DM) January 20, 2022
GAME, SET AND MACTH DANKA KOVINIC! Raducanu 4-6 6-4 3-6 Kovinic
It's the Montenegrin's moment in Melbourne.
Raducanu wins the first point but Kovinic was terrific from then on in the game, taking the contest on her second match point with a backhand winner plum on the baseline!
Huge credit to Raducanu, who made something out of nothing given the blister on her finger... she almost won out with just a forehand slice!
It won't be Emma's time this year in Australia...Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 20, 2022 Montenegro's Danka Kovinic celebrates after winning her second round match against Britain's Emma Raducanu REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Raducanu 4-6 6-4 3-5 Kovinic*
Brilliant from Raducanu, who brings Kovinic to the net in just about every point in that game!
The Brit holds to 15 - and the Montenegrin will have to serve it out, for what would be her first appearance in the third round of a Slam.
*Raducanu 4-6 6-4 2-5 Kovinic
A hold to love for Danka Kovinic, who is now just a game away.
Raducanu off the pace in that game. Looks like she's run out of steam...
She'll serve to stay in the match. Any chance of one more shock, Emma?
Raducanu 4-6 6-4 2-4 Kovinic*
Momentum swings back to Kovinic, who has the break advantage again.
Quite fortunate for the Montenegrin. A net cord mid-rally gives her a second break point, which is converted with a sweet backhand lob - Raducanu all at sea at the net.
The Brit does look like she's starting to tire now - is this the final hurrah?
*Raducanu 4-6 6-4 2-3 Kovinic
RADUCANU BREAKS BACK... TO LOVE!
Ah I don't know what to think now. Raducanu, out of nowhere, finds her groove again on her backhand - and starts hitting some powerful, flat forehands!
Kovinic has no answer, really, when Raducanu can hit sweetly on both sides. And we're back on serve in the final set of this crazy match!
Raducanu 4-6 6-4 1-3 Kovinic*
Kovinic breaks to 15, with Raducanu actually this time faltering on her backhand side.
A few in the net, coupled with Kovinic's increased intensity, and the Montenegrin now has the advantage.
Can Emma plot a route back? Don't bet against her...
*Raducanu 4-6 6-4 1-2 Kovinic
Three break points come and go for Raducanu. Ahhhh....
Both players battling so hard here, particularly the Brit who is still hampered by the blister.
Fair play to Kovinic though (for whom this situation can hardly be easy to deal with either) for seeing that game out, with her power on her backhand used to great affect.
Still on serve.
Raducanu 4-6 6-4 1-1 Kovinic*
Raducanu holds to 30. Just... how?!
Seemingly coping with the pain for now, the teenager is starting to hit through her forehand at opportune moments in the rallies! A cross-court forehand seals the game...
Which way will this turn next?
*Raducanu 4-6 6-4 0-1 Kovinic
Lengthy first game on Kovinic's serve, but the Montenegrin eventually holds.
Raducanu did have a break point there, but her blister is still causing her all sorts of pain. The forehand slice is still the regular go-to shot on that side, which is giving Kovinic a huge advantage as the rallies go on and on...
But the Brit is fighting - it's an intriguing contest to watch.
I'm making jokes ... but Raducanu literally just doubled over in pain while her hand was being massaged between sets.
How she's doing this, I don't know. Particularly when it doesn't seem like this issue is going to do anything but get worse the more she plays. pic.twitter.com/i1NrqsAmTz— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) January 20, 2022
Medical time-out over. Third set about to commence...
What on earth will happen next?!
Here's the moment Raducanu won the second set!
𝐆𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐎𝐍 👀January 20, 2022
The teenager is now getting more treatment on her blister from the trainer...
Raducanu 4-6 6-4 Kovinic*
RADUCANU WINS THE SECOND SET!
Quite incredible. What a player - and what an attitude!
She throws in a few more normal forehands... and somehow clinches the second set!
This is really fun to watch from @EmmaRaducanu - great hands, fantastic attitude— Simon Cambers (@scambers73) January 20, 2022
*Raducanu 4-6 5-4 Kovinic
Sorry, what was that? A normal forehand?!
The Brit hits three forehand winners, with the ball almost too inviting not to hit properly! Kovinic looks bemused - like the rest of us!
Raducanu herself is laughing. She's still consistently hitting forehand slices, but when it's there to be struck at with a winner... she's now hitting through the ball!
Is this now an option mid-rally? Absolute game-changer if so. And she will serve for the second set.
Raducanu 4-6 4-4 Kovinic*
Kovinic breaks back - Raducanu's injury now really limiting her.
She had chances to secure the game, actually. Noticeably, a forehand drive volley which she struck wide - due to the pain - was a big opportunity, but Kovinic does well to stay patient in the rallies and eventually breaks via an error from the Brit.
Hard to see how Raducanu can, realistically, win this match. She'll keep trying though - of that there is no doubt!
*Raducanu 4-6 4-3 Kovinic
A hold for Kovinic... but it didn't come easy!
Raducanu did have a break point, but couldn't convert. Kovinic also now consistently playing to the Brit's forehand with heavy pace, which is difficult to meaningfully slice back.
Somehow, the US Open champion is still a break up....
Raducanu 4-6 4-2 Kovinic*
Mammoth game goes to deuce, but Raducanu holds!
Unbelievable resilience from the teenager, who still can't hit a normal forehand! Yet her slice is still working smoothly and is proving troublesome for Kovinic!
She lets out a big 'Come on!' at the end of that game - a couple more and she'll have levelled things up here!
*Raducanu 4-6 3-2 Kovinic
Different story on the Kovinic serve though - the Montenegrin is winning points relatively comfortably when serving.
Yet Raducanu still has the break here.
Raducanu 4-6 3-1 Kovinic*
Raducanu holds. Remarkably!
She's coping so far, despite slicing every forehand! Kovinic is finding it particularly tricky to deal with...
The US Open champion can't help but smile after winning a few points here, given her injury. It'll be so interesting to see how this plays out...
*Raducanu 4-6 2-1 Kovinic
Kovinic holds this time, but Raducanu is still fighting out there without hitting a proper forehand!
She is slicing everything on that side, which is leading to some intriguing rallies!
Not sure Kovinic has completely sussed it out - but she's on the board in the second set.
Raducanu 4-6 2-0 Kovinic*
Raducanu holds to 30, finishing off the game with a brilliant backhand drop-shot!
I'm not convinced Kovinic has worked out this differentiation between Raducanu's ability to play a forehand compared to a backhand yet, as she keeps playing to the Brit's injured-side!
Bizarre! Yet the Brit has a cushion at the start of this second set... she's fighting out on Margaret Court Arena!
*Raducanu 4-6 1-0 Kovinic
Such a surreal situation this! Essentially, Raducanu can strike her backhand with no issue, but is backing-off on her forehand due to the blister.
The Brit works hard to win the game though, going aggressive on the backhand side and slicing every shot on her forehand side - and Kovinic seemingly unaware at the moment of the issue, as she sends a backhand wide at Ad Raducanu.
Can she do this for two sets... and win?!
Intriguing to see how this plays out...
Raducanu 4-6 Kovinic*
KOVINIC WINS THE FIRST SET!
Raducanu broken to love. The irritation re. the finger seems to have returned - some sloppy errors in that game.
Not good for the Brit this. Her level has obviously dropped because of the injury - very hard to see how she wins two sets from here...
*Raducanu 4-5 Kovinic
RADUCANU BREAKS BACK!
Where did that come from?! From the set looking to drift away, we're now back on serve.
Raducanu looks to be back in her groove, nailing a few winners and breaking to 15!
Whatever that blister problem is, she looks to have blocked it out - for the time being...
Raducanu 3-5 Kovinic*
KOVINIC BREAKS AGAIN!
Big problems for the Brit now. She can compete and rally, but not to her full capacity at the moment.
Errors are a regularity now - and the Montenegrin will serve for the first set, having won five games on the bounce!
*Raducanu 3-4 Kovinic
A few more promising signs in that game, with Raducanu competing and winning a point with a forehand cross-court winner, but Kovinic holds to 15.
Should be said that the Montenegrin is playing superbly now, while the Brit has understandably gone off the boil.
After that lightning start, we're now on-serve in the first set!
Raducanu 3-3 Kovinic*
A break to love. Raducanu's blister is clearly bothering her...
She started with a double fault, and is taking a lot of pace off her shots now.
Ominous signs for the Brit. We're back to all-square...
Raducanu is now receiving a medical time-out...
The trainer is just strapping up Raducanu's blister on her finger... not something to be overly concerned by I think...
We'll see though - she's about to get back to action.
*Raducanu 3-2 Kovinic
A hold to 30 for Kovinic, with Raducanu uncharacteristically wayward with her groundstrokes.
A confidence-boosting few minutes for the Montenegrin, who has cut the deficit to just a game.
The trainer is now coming on for Raducanu, seemingly for a blister on the finger...
Raducanu 3-1 Kovinic*
The Montenegrin is on the board here, finally finding her range while Raducanu goes astray a few times.
Back down to a single break cushion for the Brit.
*Raducanu 3-0 Kovinic
RADUCANU BREAKS AGAIN!
A walk in the park so far for the 19-year-old!
She breaks this time to 15 and is full of confidence, winning one point with a drop shot, and is her usual solid-self from the back of the court.
Kovinic, meanwhile, is really struggling to compete in the rallies so far.
Raducanu 2-0 Kovinic*
Raducanu holds to 15 and consolidates her break!
The Brit not doing anything overly special in that game, with Kovinic making a few cheap errors from the back of the court.
*Raducanu 1-0 Kovinic
The Brit has the upper-hand straight away!
Like she so often does, she's quick out the traps here, pouncing on any short balls from her opponent from Montenegro - and she has the early break when Kovinic makes the error!
It'll be Danka Kovinic to serve first!
Raducanu is now out on the Margaret Court Arena!
Both players are warming-up!
Meanwhile, earlier today...Heather Watson loses in straight sets to 29th seed "> Heather Watson loses in straight sets to 29th seed Watson lost a very close match against Zidansek in Adelaide last week, and there was little to choose between the pair again here, but the Slovenian was a bit more solid at the big moments. > >Mail Online
Raducanu just loves these Grand Slam venues!Emma Raducanu is spending 12 HOURS a day practising on the courts "> Emma Raducanu is spending 12 HOURS a day practising on the courts Emma Raducanu has been spending 12 hours a day training at Melbourne Park to boost her chances of securing another Grand Slam at the Australian Open. > >Mail Online
Raducanu is expected on court any minute now!
Meanwhile....Andy Murray vs Taro Daniel - Australian Open: Live score and updates "> Andy Murray vs Taro Daniel - Australian Open: Live score and updates Follow Sportsmail's SAM BLITZ for live coverage in the Australian Open second round, including build-up and game-by-game updates. > >Mail Online
Raducanu is enjoying her debut in Melbourne!
Good vibes, brunch, and coffee ☕January 20, 2022
Welcome to live coverage as Emma Raducanu continues her Australian Open campaign with a second round clash against world No 98 Danka Kovinic from Montenegro on Thursday!
Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-10418895/Emma-Raducanu-vs-Danka-Kovinic-Australian-Open-round-2-2022-Live-Result.html6668