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Tennis: US Open champion Emma Raducanu finding form at the right time

Britain's Emma Raducanu has offered a timely reminder of her ability on the eve of her US Open defence with back-to-back high-profile victories at WTA Cincinnati.

The 19-year-old stormed to Flushing Meadows glory as a qualifier a year ago, not dropping a set in an unprecedented triumph which catapulted her into global stardom, but her results in 2022 have been some way removed from that level.

However, just as she did 12 months ago, the teenager has found form on US hard courts to see off retiring legend Serena Williams and former world number one Victoria Azarenka at the WTA Western & Southern Open.

And it was the manner of those victories which caught the eye as Raducanu beat Serena 6-4 6-0 in what could turn out to be the penultimate match of the American's career, before she backed it up by destroying Azarenka 6-0 6-2.

What2022 US Open Women
WhereUSTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, New York
When29th August 2022 - 11th September 2022
How to watchAmazon Prime
OddsIga Swiatek 5/2, Simona Halep 7/1, Naomi Osaka 9/1, Elena Rybakina 12/1, Cori Gauff 16/1 

Raducanu hoping to end difficult season on a high note

While 2021 was a dream year, the 2022 season has been a difficult one for Raducanu as she struggled to make the adjustment to the rigours of a full-time WTA schedule.

Raducanu made a slow start to the campaign in Australia, beating fellow US Open winner Sloane Stephens in the first round of the Australian Open but then losing to Danka Kovinic in round two, and she showed little in the following months as hip and back issues troubled her in both Mexico and Indian Wells.

Fitness problems continued throughout the spring and so too did off-court issues as she called it quits with coach Torben Beltz after just five months together, citing a desire to implement "a new training model" which would see her continue without a coach.

There were a couple of promising results on clay as Raducanu reached the quarter-finals in Stuttgart, where she provided world number one Iga Swiatek with one of her toughest tests of a European clay season which the Pole completely dominated.

Raducanu pushed Swiatek a long way in a 6-4 6-4 defeat, once again displaying her ability to compete with elite rivals, but she did little else of note on clay and attention soon turned to Wimbledon and the rest of the grass season.

However, injuries once again derailed a first half of a year which never quite got going. And while she was able to compete at Wimbledon following a side strain, the British number one arrived in south west London with a lack of matches under her belt, subsequently losing 6-3 6-3 to Caroline Garcia in the second round.

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Raducanu hoping Cincinnati will be a springboard

Less than two months later, Raducanu has looked like a completely different player back on the North American hard courts where she enjoyed so much success a year ago.

Seemingly fit and healthy, the teenager made an encouraging return to action in Washington, where she reached only her second quarter-final of the season before finding capable Luidmila Samsonova too good - the Russian would eventually go on to win the title.

A lesser effort followed against Camilia Giorgi in Canada last week but the world number 13 has looked close to her US Open-winning best in Cincinnati this week.

What the form is worth is open to debate. Williams is 40 and her decision to call time on her career is effectively an admission that she is no longer close to the peak of her powers, and she came into that contest with few recent outings under her belt.

The complete demolition of Azarenka is more encouraging. The Belarusian is ranked 22nd on the WTA Tour, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in January and was a beaten finalist at Indian Wells less than a year ago.

American Pegula offers another tough test

Next up for the Brit in Cincinnati is a meeting with Jessica Pegula, a solid WTA Tour player who will offer a better idea of the state of Raducanu's game before her US Open defence.

Pegula is 5/6 to win Thursday's contest with Raducanu 5/6. The pair have never met before, but as the odds suggest, there is precious little between them. The winner of that match will then meet one of Elise Mertens or Caroline Garcia in the quarter-finals.

Ultimately, though, the aim for Raducanu is to mount a successful defence of her US Open title which, given her struggles throughout the season, remains an unlikely prospect.

Part of that is because the WTA Tour is so competitive. She is unlikely to be faced with an easy draw - an accusation unfairly levelled at her last season despite beating Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari, who is now ranked third in the world.

Raducanu's recent performances will no doubt increase interest in her US Open odds and she can now be backed at 16/1 to retain her Flushing Meadows crown.

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