After enjoying a solid clay court season, nonetheless filled with various injury niggles, Emma Raducanu arrives at her first senior French Open content with her progress but still figuring out how to optimally manage her body as a professional athlete. Raducanu says that she is still in the process of learning about her body, and she has been increasing her work in the gym in the hope of strengthening it and building up its resistance to injuries.
“I think it’s something I’m definitely learning to enjoy with each bit that I do,” she said of her focus on gym work. “I kind of get that positive reinforcement and I feel really good about myself and each time I feel like even if I do a little bit, I’m getting better and it’s something that I think helps you mentally as well if you know that you definitely put the work in. I’m gonna be out there, I’m gonna outlast or be fitter than my opponent on the other side of the court and it’s definitely something that I want to continue.”
Raducanu arrived in Paris on Thursday, her first time back at the French Open since she contested the junior event in 2018, and in the afternoon she trained before a crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Such is the enduring buzz around her, a solid crowd was on show to watch her play and cheer her various drop shots. After retiring against Bianca Andreescu with a back injury in Rome and appearing unsure of whether she would be fit in time for the French Open, she says she is moving freely now and enjoying her practices again.
“I’m learning about my body, for sure, but I’m very happy to be continuing my preparations for the French Open and to be able to play this tournament and fortunately I didn’t have to miss this grand slam,” said Raducanu. “That is definitely a really positive thing because I really look forward to these big moments and the big tournaments.”
The draw has been fair to Raducanu and she stands a chance of piecing together victories in Paris if she is healthy. She begins against a qualifier and the first seeded opponent she could face is the former world No 1 Angelique Kerber, who is notorious for her dislike of clay courts and has lifted the trophy at all grand slams apart from Roland Garros.
Regardless of how she fares this year, perhaps the biggest revelation for Raducanu is how much she has embraced the surface and how much she believes the surface has embraced her game, something she was not sure about at the beginning of the swing.
“I think that I have definitely come a long way and probably progressed faster than expected in the last few weeks and I really am enjoying the clay. To be honest, I think I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. Clay at the beginning kind of was like written off: ‘Oh, it’s a clay court, just have a go.’ But now I really believe that I can be good and faster than I thought it would be,” she said.
A week after he suffered a flare-up of his chronic foot injury during his loss to Denis Shapovalov at the Italian Open and gave a sobering description of his situation afterwards, Rafael Nadal spoke with notable optimism about his presence in Paris. Nadal, who is trying to establish his top form after a fractured rib halted his 20-0 start to the season, said that the foot problem he suffered in Rome is something he has to accept. The pain will always be present and the important point is whether he can manage it.
“It is something that I live every day with, so is nothing new for me and is not a big surprise. So I am here just to play tennis and to try to make the best result possible here in Roland Garros, no? And if I don’t believe that this thing can happen, probably I will not be here,” he said.
Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, was unmoved by the news that Nadal stands as a potential quarter-final opponent, even as he identified Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz as the other big tournament favourites. “I feel I am always in that contention to fight for any grand slam trophy,” he said. “I believe in my own abilities to get far and to fight for one of the most prestigious trophies in the world of tennis. As a defending champion, of course, more so, to believe I can do it again.”