Emma Raducanu has been handed a nightmare draw at the Australian Open, after being paired with 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Raducanu will be playing her first Grand Slam since her breakthrough win at the US Open last September, with her form leading into the event a cause for concern after a 6-0, 6-1 defeat against Elena Rybakina in Sydney on Wednesday.
“After the match I got a box of balls and went straight to the practice court,” Raducanu told reporters after the loss against Rybakina.
“I felt I could have done some things better and I wanted to try and fix it straight away, just leave with a better feeling about it.
“At the end of the day I just want to keep putting myself out there. Even if I keep getting knocked down, it’s just about getting back up and basically just falling in front. You’re one step better, you learn more.”
“I could have easily said it’s too soon and just play next week, but I wanted to really give myself some competitive points and matches. I think this will help in putting me in a better place for next week.”
Andy Murray’s return to Melbourne three years after the emotion of what seemed likely to be his final appearance will see him begin his campaign against Georgian 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, who he beat at the Sydney Tennis Classic on Wednesday.
There were also tough draws for the other two British seeds at the Australian Open, with 12th seed Cameron Norrie taking on fast-rising young American Sebastian Korda while 24th seed Dan Evans meeting former top-10 star David Goffin, if he recovers in time from an injury that forced him to pull out of his match against Andy Murray on Thursday.
Heather Watson was paired with Egypt’s Mayar Sherif while there could be a blockbuster fourth-round encounter between defending champion Naomi Osaka and world number one Ashleigh Barty.
Australian Open organizers, who have come under fire for their part in the Novak Djokovic fiasco, were dealt another blow on Thursday when the Victoria Government announced ticket sales for the tournament would be capped at 50 per cent of capacity.
No tickets will be cancelled, though, giving an indication that sales have been slower than Tennis Australia would have hoped.
The governing body suffered a loss of 100million dollars (approximately GBP 53million) on last year’s event because of significant extra costs involved in chartering planes and paying for players to quarantine for two weeks along with reduced crowds, including a brief lockdown mid-tournament.