Emma Raducanu is guaranteed to play the Australian Open after a late withdrawal offered her a spot in the main draw.
On Wednesday American Lauren Davis pulled out with a shoulder injury, helping the former British No 1 rise into the 128-player draw for the tournament, which begins on Jan 14.
It was a welcome boost for Raducanu, 21, who has been on the sidelines after extensive rehabilitation from injuries last season, including surgeries to both her wrists and her ankle back in May.
Although she had a ‘special ranking’ designation of 103 due to her time away, it wasn’t high enough for direct entry into the first grand slam of the year. It meant she faced the prospect of having to go through three rounds of qualifying in order to compete in Melbourne.
That is a challenge she has risen to previously, famously becoming the first qualifier to win a major at the US Open in 2021. But the news on Wednesday that she will sneak into the main draw will be welcome, due to the competitive nature of the qualifying draws at majors.
Along with Davis, the withdrawals of Karolina Muchova, Petra Kvitova, Irina-Camelia Begu, Caty McNally helped Raducanu earn an automatic place in this month’s tournament.
She started her season well on Tuesday, when she played her first match in eight months at the ASB Classic in Auckland. The intense three-set win over Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse was a stern test for her body, and she was heartened by the level she played at for two hours and 27 minutes.
“The body held up really good,” she told Sky Sports. “I’m really thankful to everyone at the LTA – they helped me out so much physically. I felt really good on the court, it was nice not to be thinking of niggles of injuries and being able to focus on the tennis and what I wanted to do tactically, not hoping the points were over quickly. I felt I was there for however long the points went. That was a good feeling.
“I didn’t really know what I felt during or at the end of the match. Usually you have such a clear emotion, whether nerves or happiness, but I think I was a bit in shock really because eight months is a long time, I’ve really been through it, so it’s just great to be healthy and on the court competing again.”
Raducanu plays Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, the world No 25 and a semi-finalist at last year’s Wimbledon, in the second round on Thursday.