Emma Raducanu draws Slam champ in Eastbourne 1R & top-5 player in 2R

Raducanu didn't have much luck with the draw ahead of her Eastbourne debut.

by Dzevad Mesic
Emma Raducanu draws Slam champ in Eastbourne 1R & top-5 player in 2R
© Getty Images Sport - Nathan Stirk

Emma Raducanu is set for a very tough start to her Eastbourne debut as the 2021 US Open champion is set to meet 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, while she could also meet No. 2 seed Jessica Pegula in the round-of-16. 

Since Raducanu is a home favorite in Eastbourne and one of the biggest hopes for the locals, many were interested in seeing how would the 21-year-old Briton go in the draw. While former world No. 3 Stephens is past her prime and this week she only made the Birmingham round-of-16 before losing to Elisabetta Cocciaretto, she was once a Wimbledon quarterfinalist and definitely could be a very tricky matchup for Raducanu.

But at least Raducanu knows what to expect from Stephens, having already played once the 31-year-old American - when they met in the 2022 Australian Open first round, the now 21-year-old Briton clinched a 6-0 2-6 6-1 victory for her first-ever win at Melbourne Park. Heading into their second match, Raducanu can be regarded as the favorite considering that she started her grass season with a semifinal showing in Nottingham, while Stephens wasn't convincing in Birmingham. 

If Raducanu makes it past Stephens, she will play another American - world No. 5 Jessica Pegula who has a first-round bye. And Pegula - who made the semifinal in Berlin this week - would be a much tougher matchup for Raducanu but also a real test for the 21-year-old and her chances of doing well at Wimbledon.

Emma Raducanu and Jessica Pegula
Emma Raducanu and Jessica Pegula © Getty Images Sport - Dylan Buell

Raducanu's path to the Eastbourne title could also include meeting No. 6 seed Daria Kasatkina in the quarterfinal - playing against 2024 French Open finalist Jasmine Paolini in the semifinal - and possibly clashing against No. 1 seed Elena Rybakina for the title.

What Raducanu said after her lone meeting versus Stephens?

When Raducanu was drawn to meet Stephens in her first-ever Australian Open match, it definitely wasn't the best of the draws that the Briton could have received. But she remained unfazed - played her game - and ended up beating the 2017 US Open champion and former world No. 3 in her Australian Open debut. 

"I think that I went out there and I played a great first set. I executed my game plan pretty well and was making very little unforced errors, but of course because Sloane is a great champion, I mean, she was fighting back in the second set. Her defensive skills were pretty inspiring actually for me to try and replicate myself later on. So we got into some long rallies. She turned it around," Raducanu said after beating Stephens at Melbourne Park in 2022 January.

"Then in the third set I'm just glad I could regroup and make less errors again and play some good tennis."

Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu © Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

At the time, Raducanu also praised Stephens' physical abilities. 

"I mean, definitely, some of those shots she was getting to I couldn't believe, like her squash shot, her forehand on the run, I couldn't believe the ball kept coming back," Raducanu said of Stephens' athleticism at the time.

"I definitely think that I want to learn from that, and it's tough, because it's a bit deceiving. You don't think she's at the ball, but then she comes back and the ball is coming back with an even better angle on it."

Raducanu enters the Stephens match heavily confident 

Last week, Raducanu reached her first WTA semifinal since 2022 after dominating Ena Shibahara and Daria Snigur in two sets before losing an extremely tight three-setter to Katie Boulter that finished after three hours and 13 minutes of play. 

After the match, the 21-year-old Briton had a message that made her entire fanbase pretty happy. 

“I feel really good. After the match I went and did intervals, I feel strong. I feel like I could play tomorrow. I am just shaking off a bit of a bug and a cold but physically I am fine," Raducanu said. 

“I just feel fit, I feel strong. I didn’t pick up any niggles. Even at the start of this year, just gaining that match fitness and being able to day after day, it’s a good position for me to be in.

“Feeling a little fatigued but being in the latter stages of a tournament. There’s no point being super fresh if your out first round every week. I have come a long way. I physically feel really good. That block has just allowed me to do more work, more fitness.

“I am starting to trust my body a lot more. I wouldn’t say I am the finished product at all but I am getting there.”

Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu © Getty Images Sport - Nathan Stirk

Now, Raducanu will also try to make a deep Eastbourne run and enter Wimbledon with two great results on grass under her belt.

Emma Raducanu