Emma Raducanu is feeling “reborn” and freed of the weight of her US Open triumph as she prepares to make her comeback in Auckland.
The 21-year-old will face a qualifier in the opening round of the ASB Classic, her first match since April following operations on both her wrists and one ankle.
Raducanu looked relaxed and happy as she spoke to the media in New Zealand, saying: “I feel reborn in a way, I feel fresh, I feel ready, I feel happy, I feel excited.
“Overall I’m feeling very positive and lighter. I think for two years after the US Open I felt maybe a bit more weight on my shoulders but now I feel completely fresh.”
The former British number one had hoped to make her comeback last autumn but her recovery was not a smooth process and she was forced to delay until the start of the new season.
She has been building back up to full fitness on and off court at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton under the guidance of Lawn Tennis Association staff.
For her final week working in London she turned to childhood coach Nick Cavaday while accompanying her in Auckland is mentor Jane O’Donoghue, a former coach who left the LTA to pursue a career in finance.
It's your Women's #ASBClassic Singles Draw for 2024!
— ASB Classic (@ASB_Classic) December 30, 2023
Raducanu has not had a permanent coach since splitting from Sebastian Sachs at the beginning of June.
O’Donoghue also helped out Raducanu at Wimbledon in 2022 when she was between coaches, and the former US Open champion said: “It’s really nice and refreshing to have her around, I know she has my best interests at heart and it’s just nice to have a familiar face.”
While it is likely to take time for Raducanu to find her feet on the match court again, she believes she is returning to the tour a better player and hungry to succeed.
“It’s going to be fun, I think, going out there competing again, having the competitive juices flowing,” she said.
“I’ve been training really well in practice so overall I’m feeling really good about my game. I think tennis wise I’m better than I was a year ago today, it’s just playing a match it’s going to be different.
“I got to spend a lot of time just thinking how I feel and I definitely got that hunger back just to be on the court competing, training, sweating. I think you really appreciate the time you have when you’re healthy and on court.”
While Raducanu received a wild card in Auckland, she is still waiting to see whether the same will apply for the Australian Open.
Her protected ranking given to players who have been sidelined long term is 103, which appears unlikely to be high enough to secure direct entry in Melbourne.
Currently that would mean going through qualifying at a grand slam for the first time since her remarkable New York triumph in 2021, and she said: “Qualifying doesn’t faze me.
“Right now I’m approaching it like I am in qualifying because I am. I’ve done pretty well in qualifying before so I’ll just see how it goes.”
Preparing to make his 2024 debut across the Tasman Sea at the Brisbane International is Andy Murray, who will take on second seed Grigor Dimitrov in his opening match.
Thanks for the opportunity to be back on the court with you..Good luck with the comeback https://t.co/ZzmvTMhHUD
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) December 30, 2023
Most of the focus at the tournament is on the returning Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka, and Murray faced the Spaniard in a practice session on Saturday.
Nadal has been sidelined for a year by a hip problem, and Murray said: “It’s great to have him back playing. He’s obviously working extremely hard, like always. He looked physically good, was playing well.”
Both men would need to make it to the semi-finals to meet in anger, and Murray cited renewing his long-time rivalries with Nadal and Novak Djokovic as a goal.
“If I get the opportunity to practise with them, I still really, really enjoy that,” said the Scot. “It does bring back some good memories. But ideally I’d want to be doing that in the tournaments, not in the first rounds. I’d like to be doing it
in the latter stages, if I can.”