By Andy Sims, PA
The newest grand slam champion in the women’s game will spearhead Britain’s bid for success at the Australian Open.
Emma Raducanu is seeded 17th in Melbourne with the British number one set to play in her first major tournament since her incredible US Open success.
A whirlwind six months saw the Bromley teenager come from out of nowhere to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon before stunning the tennis world at Flushing Meadows and scooping the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award into the bargain.
It is scarcely believable that in WTA terms Raducanu is still a rookie, about to embark on her first full season on the Tour.
There are fears the 19-year-old could struggle under the weight of the pressure she has created for herself – although starting the year off with a chastening 6-0 6-1 defeat by Elena Rybakina at the Sydney International should temper some of those expectations.
It is sure to be a steep learning curve for Raducanu, who must deal with the fact she is now a major scalp for her opponents.
“I’m not sure of other people’s opinions of me,” she said. “It’s going to happen, pressure is a privilege. I thrive under the adrenaline, I hope.
EMMA RADUCANU IS THE US OPEN CHAMPION pic.twitter.com/chyac4ZP7F
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2021
“So for me I don’t really think about other people’s opinions or expectations. The only ones I have are that of myself, to improve and get better.”
Johanna Konta’s retirement has left a hole in British women’s tennis but Raducanu is joined in the main draw by Heather Watson, whose best performance came nine years ago when she reached the third round.
In the men’s draw Cameron Norrie will be out to cement his place in the upper echelons of the game after a stellar 2021.
The 26-year-old left-hander racked up some impressive wins throughout the year before claiming the prestigious Indian Wells title in October.
Norrie has risen to the cusp of the top 10, become British number one for the first time and even secured a place at the season-ending ATP Finals as an alternate.
Dan Evans may have been overtaken by Norrie but he also enjoyed a career-best season, winning his first ATP title and reaching 22nd in the rankings.
Then there is the small matter of Andy Murray, returning to the scene of his tearful announcement that he feared his career was over three years ago.
Unreal atmosphere out there tonight… thanks so much to everyone that was in there watching and supporting.. you carried me over the line 👏 life in the old dog yet eh!🐕
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) June 30, 2021
The former world number one, five times a runner-up in Melbourne, is looking to build on the momentum he gained towards the end of last season when he recorded two top-10 wins over Hubert Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner.
Murray’s last appearance at the Australian Open was that epic encounter with 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who he pushed to a fifth set after mounting a huge comeback from two down, all while playing with just one functioning hip.
It should be a far less painful experience for the 34-year-old Scot, who has stated he wants a deep run in at least one of the majors, this time around.