It said a lot about Emma Raducanu’s problems with form and fitness since she became US Open champion that many in the Center Court crowd were more anxious than hesitant as the British teenager walked out to have her bow in the holy court.
The 19-year-old had barely won consecutive wins since her shock triumph in New York, plagued by injuries and a bout of Covid-19.
She had won ten games in nine months since winning ten in a row to get through qualifying and win the September Grand Slam.
Then she entered Wimbledon, hampered by a side injury, meaning this was only her seventh professional game on grass.
That made Alison van Uytvanck a much more difficult proposition than a world ranking at number 46 suggested, not least because the Belgian had won 12 of 14 surface matches this year, including two second-rate titles.
Not only the audience was nervous, Raducanu himself started hesitantly. But 101 minutes later, she literally jumped for joy, and they cheered for joy, after the No. 10 seed took a straight set victory, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round on Monday.
Raducanu, who first commented last year when he reached the fourth round as an unknown wildcard in SW19, said: “It’s an incredibly special feeling to be back at Wimbledon. I felt the support the moment I walked out and walked the grounds.”
About the jump of joy she said: “It wasn’t a relief, it was just luck. To play on Center Court and win the first time is amazing. Every time I go back I just go have a great first experience. That always helps.”
There hasn’t been a British women’s Wimbledon champion since Virginia Wade in 1977 – and there are few real contenders.
That comes with a load of expectations, but Raducanu said: “Big matches and big occasions are the ones I’m most excited about. I love playing on the big stages, I really thrive on that.”
Raducanu broke for 4-3 for the first time. The pair then traded breaks to leave Raducanu in position to serve for the first set. She achieved this, but only after she was 15-40 down
In the second set, Van Uytvanck was the first to break by taking a 3-1 lead. But Raducanu, who had adapted to cope with the Belgian’s low ball, won five of the next six games to win the set and the match.
Raducanu came to her post-match press conference wearing a T-shirt featuring Rafael Nadal’s bull horns logo. She said she takes inspiration from the veteran’s form this season.
“I think Rafa just fights, embodies that kind of energy,” said Raducanu, who meets France’s Caroline Garcia in the second round.
“That’s what I’m bringing in. I think I’ve had a tough year, it’s no secret. It’s all worth it to go on Center Court alone and get a win like that.