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Sloane Stephens hits out at Emma Raducanu

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Emma Raducanu (left) and Sloane Stephens – Sloane Stephens questions Emma Raducanu's behaviour at Australian Open, saying Briton 'has a lot to learn' - GETTY IMAGES

Emma Raducanu (left) and Sloane Stephens – Sloane Stephens questions Emma Raducanu’s behaviour at Australian Open, saying Briton ‘has a lot to learn’ – GETTY IMAGES

Emma Raducanu still “has a lot to learn”, said her defeated first-round opponent Sloane Stephens, who sounded aggrieved at the way Raducanu had challenged her verbally at the start of their first-round match.

On the very first point of their thrilling three-set battle, Raducanu had whistled a forehand winner up the line and then shouted “Come on!”

It was a canny piece of territorial display from Raducanu, making her presence felt from the off. Stephens seemed rattled as she suffered a first-set “bagel” in only 16 minutes, collecting just four points along the way.

Performing media duties after her 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 defeat, Stephens told reporters “Everyone saw after the first point she gave like a massive scream.”

The 2017 US Open champion went on to be less than glowingly complimentary about Raducanu’s performance, saying “She played me, someone she’s ranking-wise supposed to beat. [Stephens stands 50 places lower down the ladder at No 68 in the world.] And, I mean, yeah, she won.”

As to the likelihood of Raducanu continuing her extraordinary trajectory up the world rankings, Stephens sounded unconvinced. “Because she is so young it’s definitely a long road, so there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs. I think she, yeah, has just a lot to learn.

“I was talking to someone in the locker-room,” Stephens added, “and I’m like, ‘We’ll be here when she comes down.’”

At this point, Stephens seemed to realise that she was in danger of sounding sour. “Not Emma,” she added hastily, “but just in general. It all is like a cycle, and I think learning how to deal with it early on is the best way to handle it. Just because there’s always a lot of ups and downs in tennis.”

As for Raducanu’s own take on the match, she revealed that she had taken inspiration from Andy Murray’s sweaty five-set victory earlier on the same day.

Forced into a deciding set for the first time in her grand-slam career, Raducanu hung superbly tough when it mattered, reducing her unforced error count while Stephens’s remained high.

She later explained that Murray’s dogged example had been in her mind, encouraging her to dig deeper during the concluding phase of her win.

Asked if she had been following his match on TV, she replied “I was, actually, because when I was in the third set, I thought ‘Andy was up a set. And then he got pushed to five. But he fought back so hard in the fifth set and took the decider.’

“So when I went to three [sets],” Raducanu added, “I was also thinking ‘Actually, I can fight back and win the decider.’ You know, fight like he did. So I was definitely inspired by him.”

Raducanu will now play world No 98 Danka Kovinic in the second round. Their match has been scheduled on Margaret Court Arena – the second-biggest stadium at Melbourne Park – and will begin at around 8am (GMT) on Thursday.

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