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Emma Raducanu caps debut season with exhibition win

US Open champion Emma Raducanu capped her remarkable debut season with a 6-3, 7-6(3) triumph over Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse in a light-hearted exhibition match at the Champions Tennis event at the famed Royal Albert Hall on Sunday.

Britain’s Raducanu, who turned 19 years old earlier this month, was playing at the season-ending event after some stunning debut months on the Tour.

It started with a first-round defeat in Nottingham in June 2021, but was followed by a remarkable run at Wimbledon that saw he win her first three matches before retiring versus Ajla Tomljanovic and peaked with a spell-bounding win at the US Open, where she did not drop a set on her way to becoming the first British woman to win the tournament in 53 years.

She has since competed in three events, the most recent in Linz, Austria, where she was beaten in the first round against China’s Xinyu Wang.

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The world No. 19, playing on Sunday against her friend Ruse, held her serve in the opening game and then forced Ruse into a long service game, saving two game points before hitting a winner into the corner and then driving her opponent into an error to take a 2-0 lead. The pair held their serves in the following two games before Radacanu broke again to ease into a 5-1 lead.

Ruse briefly broke back, but the Brit followed up by holding her serve two games later to claim the first set.

The Romanian often resorted to drop shots as Raducanu repeatedly fired from behind the baseline as both players held serve to start the second set. But Raducanu broke the deadlock in the fifth game, this time pouncing on a poorly weighted drop shot from Ruse to force an error. Ruse soon recovered though and forced a tiebreak for the set, which Raducanu eased 7-3.

“It was amazing to play at home in front of everyone here. I felt it straight from the minute I walked out — it was an incredible atmosphere — and I really enjoyed playing here,” Raducanu said in her on-court interview.

The Champions Tennis exhibition event, which has taken place since 1997, invites players who have once held the world No. 1 ranking, reached a Grand Slam final or been achieved success in the Davis Cup. This year’s edition will be the last at the Royal Albert Hall as it searches for a new venue next year.

Raducanu will next play at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi in December as she begins preseason heading into her first full season on the WTA Tour. She will also compete at the Australian Open in January, her first Grand Slam since claiming the US Open title and the third major of her career.

She recently went on a vacaction, which she said in an Instagram post was her first in seven years, as she prepares for the 2022 season.

“For six days I just completely switched off and I started my preseason this week on Tuesday,” Raducanu added. “I’ve been doing a lot of fitness, not so much tennis, so I was a bit nervous coming out to play in front of everyone here.

“Right now, I’m doing preseason and working hard on my fitness, as you can tell I need to work on my sprints to the net when I was getting dropshotted. Then I’m heading out to the Middle East to finish my preseason, and then Christmas out there then flying to Australia on Dec. 26.”

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