John McEnroe believes Emma Raducanu can benefit from her 'underdog' status in Wednesday's blockbuster Australian Open second round clash against Coco Gauff. The tennis young guns go head-to-head in the evening session on Rod Laver Arena in what is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated clashes of the tournament so far.
American teen sensation Gauff has already revealed her goal for 2023 is to emulate Raducanu by winning a grand slam title after making the final of last year's French Open. Raducanu famously claimed her first major trophy after shocking the tennis world in 2021 by becoming the first qualifier in history to win the US Open.
Expectation and pressure has inevitably followed Raducanu after that momentous feat and injuries have also conspired to stall the 20-year-old Brit's career. However, McEnroe insists the pressure will be off Raducanu against the seventh-seeded Gauff, and the Brit can use it to her advantage.
“It will probably be the first time in a couple of years where Emma Raducanu won’t be feeling the type of pressure she’s been feeling since she won the US Open,” McEnroe told Eurosport. “So that’s probably a good thing to allow her to be more free and do her thing, because to me she’s the type of player, the type of person and the type of talent that we could use in the top 10.”
McEnroe says it's been difficult watching Raducanu's fitness struggles since her US Open win, and the series of setbacks have affected her rhythm and momentum. The former World No.1 says the Brit has the chance against Gauff at the Australian Open to 'let loose' and play her natural game.
"She’s playing someone who’s gone at a slower pace and matured more gradually – Gauff is only 18 but has been on the tour for years," he added. “It’s a great second-round match-up and I think it’s going to be the first time in a while where Emma can really let loose and play more free. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens there.
“I think Coco is in the better position right now to make a deep run and I think it’s going to be soon that she’s going to win a major event in the next year or two at the most. To me she goes in as a heavy favourite.
“She seems to be playing better and better and serving more consistently than she has done. I would say that it’s a match she should win, but a match that could put Raducanu back on the map again, which would be good for her.”
Seven-time major winner Mats Wilander thinks Raducanu has handled the pressure well after a meteoric rise in such a short space of time. However, the Swede says she needs to understand what style of player she wants to be, in order to maximise her potential.
“I don’t think Emma Raducanu needs to play a lot of matches because she knows how to win on the big stage. She’s responding to the pressure nicely. She’s a great player, she seems like a great human being.
“For me though, she hasn’t quite found what she’s doing out there. Is she a Novak Djokovic, am I playing more defence or offence, am I completely like Simona Halep? She’s looking for an identity, which is what you have to find and it looks like she’s searching, and that’s a good sign.”
Coco Gauff inspired by Emma Raducanu's rise
Gauff admits that Raducanu's US Open title win was inspirational for her and the younger generation of players on the women's tour. The American says she can relate the pressure that comes with breaking onto the scene at such a young age but admits that the Brit has probably had it even tougher than herself.
“Some people might think seeing Emma win the US Open at such a young age may have made me jealous or envious. It didn’t. It was inspiring more than anything else,” Gauff wrote in her BBC Sport column. “I can relate to bursting on to the scene and dealing with the pressure that follows, but I don’t think that was anywhere near to the level of attention Emma received.
“After beating Katerina Siniakova in my first-round match in Melbourne I went online and I found out I was playing Emma. She is having an incredible career so far and I think she is still finding her way on tour. With her being my age, I always try to reach out and when she picked up the ankle injury in Auckland I reached out to see how she was doing.
“I always try to look out for people when they’re joining the tour because I know how different a life it is. Emma has a great head on her shoulders and I think she is doing great. We’ve not really had the chance to talk about anything outside of tennis, what common interests we might have, or anything like that.
“Most of the time when I see her is at a tournament, and we’re both trying go to practice, or coming from practice, or going to matches. It is difficult to really get into those conversations, and I haven’t really hung out with her off the court.”
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