Britain's Emma Raducanu played through the pain of a blister on her racquet hand but was unable to see off Danka Kovinic as she lost in the second round of the Australian Open in three sets.
The blister on Raducanu's right hand -- at the top of the palm, below the index finger -- saw her unable to hit through the forehand, with the US Open champion in noticeable pain throughout the match. She played much of the match with just a sliced forehand and an underpowered serve, steering much of the play to her backhand. Despite this, she forced the match to three sets but eventually lost out to world No. 98 Kovinic 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
The blister on Raducanu's hand was aggravated in her round one win over Sloane Stephens. As she walked out for her second-round match on Margaret Court Arena, her racquet hand was strapped but that did not stop the 19-year-old storming into a 3-0 lead at the start of the first set. After losing the next two games, she called a medical time out to get some attention to the blister on her right hand. Her index finger was heavily taped as she tried to manage the pain, but that disruption and the subsequent discomfort saw Raducanu struggle to maintain her early match form.
"It was a difficult match -- I was struggling with my hand," Raducanu said in a postmatch news conference.
"Before the match there were some people in my team who didn't want me to play. I thought it was a pretty good learning experience for me -- I learnt I had some tools that I didn't know I had before."
"I do not hit slice forehands, I probably hit more in that match than I did in the last three years. I've learnt that I have some hand skills, and it's not too bad -- that was a positive surprise for myself. I'm proud of how I kept fighting -- even in those situations where I was struggling. I kept hanging in there, I'm proud of that as well."
She led 3-2 in the first set at this stage, but Kovinic broke to love in the next game and won three of the next four games to take the first set 6-4.
Having tried to continue with her usual style of loading up her huge forehand, the pain prohibited Raducanu from continuing in this vein and she shifted gear to slice her forehand, steer play to her backhand, and try to move Kovinic around the court. That saw Raducanu break Kovinic in the first game of the second set and it went with serve until the game was poised at 4-3 to Raducanu.
Her emotions shifted between smiling disbelief at how she was still in the match, to discomfort and pain, to then a look of exasperation. Kovinic broke back to make it 4-4 but Raducanu was unbowed as she broke back with three forehand winners in the next game. She then saved two break points to serve out to take the second set 6-4.
But in the third set Raducanu failed to convert three four break points and was eventually broken in the fourth game by Kovinic who took a 3-1 lead. Raducanu's backhand was misfiring at this stage but in the following game she re-found her radar and broke back to love. Kovinic then broke back in the following game and closed out the match, winning 6-3.
"I've been struggling with blisters since I started playing in Australia," Raducanu added.
"I have had had blisters before -- it's deep and in an awkward position so it's difficult to tape. We've tried so many alternatives, but they've fallen off or I have no feeling in my racquet.
"Some people in my team didn't even want me to go out there -- I fought so hard to get out there and wanted to leave it all out on the court."
Raducanu's build up to the Australian Open was hampered by testing positive for COVID-19 in December. That saw her pre-season plans shelved and her calendar re-jigged. She had meant to play at Adelaide, but pulled out of that and managed just 53 minutes in Sydney as she suffered a first-round loss to Elena Rybakina. She later said she'd only played a few hours of tennis in the build up to that match as she looked to build her fitness back up after the spell out with COVID and she received a tricky first round draw for the Australian Open in 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
The Brit managed to get through that test 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 but her right hand suffered as a result and that proved to be too much of a hindrance in the second round match on Thursday.