After spending the offseason basking in the glory of an unprecedented US Open victory, Emma Raducanu’s first match in 2022 was something less than satisfying. Last week in Sydney, Elena Rybakina dropped a 6-0, 6-1 lesson on the teenager in a match that was over in less than an hour.
Her response, though, was telling.
“After the match I got a box of balls and went straight to the practice court,” the 19-year-old Raducanu said later. “I felt like I could have done some things better in the match, and I wanted to try and fix it straightaway, just leave with a better feeling about it.”
She worked on her movement, getting a good shape on the ball and, mostly, her first and second serves. After she became the first qualifier in Grand Slam history to win a major, Raducanu can expect to make a few adjustments in the coming year.
Rybakina, the WTA’s No.13-ranked player, was a tough way to start, but it’s not going to get any easier in Melbourne. Raducanu’s first-round Australian Open opponent Tuesday is Sloane Stephens. Through the continuing miracle that is the major draw, we have the 2021 US Open champion against the 2017 US Open champion.
The two have yet to play.
Don’t let Stephens’ No.68 ranking fool you. She’s won her past three first rounds in the Grand Slams, all under significant circumstances. At Roland Garros, she faced Carla Suárez Navarro in her final match in Paris. Stephens defeated two-time champion Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon and took down former US Open finalist Madison Keys in New York.
Stephens, who turns 29 in March, married American soccer star Jozy Altidore on New Year’s Day in Miami Beach, Florida.
Raducanu also made an offseason change. Her new coach is Torben Beltz, who had his greatest success with Angelique Kerber.
One month ago, when she was scheduled to play an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, Raducanu contracted Covid-19. The ensuing layoff might help explain the severity of the loss to Rybakina.
“I don’t think it was so much nerves,” Raducanu said. “I felt pretty comfortable and welcome out there on court. But I didn't play tennis for 21 days and to come out and play Rybakina straight up. I think that I will brush this off, because for me, just getting out there, playing points, yesterday was pretty much like my second time playing competitive points for like two months, even in practice.
“I’m just at the start of my first season. I think one of my goals is not to get too down or too high. It’s to just try and keep a steady progress and tracking upwards hopefully.”
Other notable matches
 Aryna Sabalenka vs. [WC] Storm Sanders
There will be a lot of eyes on this one after Sabalenka began the year with two losses in separate events in Adelaide, throwing in a total of 39 double faults. She even resorted to several underarm serves and appeared quite distraught. Sanders, in as a wildcard, won the Adelaide 500 doubles title with fellow Australian Ashleigh Barty.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Sabalenka, 2016 Perth ITF W25 semifinals.
 Anett Kontaveit vs. Katerina Siniakova
Kontaveit comes in with some serious momentum. She finished the 2021 season by winning 28 of 32 matches. She won the first set of her quarterfinal match before Ons Jabeur retired with a back injury. The three-set semifinal loss to Krejcikova suggested she’s still in terrific form. Siniakova lost her first match of the year in Melbourne to qualifier Anna Bondar .
Head-to-head: 4-1, Kontaveit, 2-0 in 2021 (Cleveland and Moscow).
 Angelique Kerber vs. Kaia Kanepi
Kerber, the three-time major champion, had a nice flurry in the middle of 2021 and, even with her 34th birthday Tuesday, promises to be a factor at this year’s event. Kanepi is two years older, ranked No.71, but still dangerous. She dropped a second-round match to Ana Konjuh in Melbourne.
Head-to-head: 2-2, but they haven’t played since 2014 Sydney.
 Petra Kvitova vs. Sorana Cirstea
Kvitova lost two of her three matches coming in, but was a 2019 finalist in Melbourne. Likewise, Cirstea is 1-2 in 2022 and ranked No.38 – only 17 spots behind Kvitova.
Head-to-head: 5-3, Kvitova, however Cirstea won this second-round matchup a year ago in Melbourne in three sets.
 Leylah Fernandez vs. [WC] Maddison Inglis
Fernandez, the 2021 US Open runner-up, had a nice first-round win over Ekaterina Alexandrova in Adelaide, then fell to Iga Swiatek in the second. An injury sustained in the match versus Swiatek caused her to withdraw from Sydney. Inglis, an Australian wildcard, is ranked No.139.
Head-to-head: 2-0, Fernandez, both in ITF events in 2019.