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Raducanu relishing clay play as Great Britain prepare for France in BJK Cup



Raducanu relishing clay play as Great Britain prepare for France in BJK Cup

Emma Raducanu says she is relishing the challenge of adapting her game to perform on clay as she and Katie Boulter lead Great Britain in a tough Billie Jean King Cup qualifier against France.

“I’m enjoying the challenge of it,” said Raducanu. “And I think it’s great that we can be in this position, playing the French who are so dominant. And coming on clay, I definitely think we’re the underdogs. But we have a lot of game and we’re ready to play this weekend.”

During Thursday’s draw, Boulter and Raducanu were named as Great Britain’s singles players against a tough French team led by the experienced world No 23, Caroline Garcia, and the 21-year-old Diane Parry. They will play on indoor clay in Le Portel, a small port town 30 minutes down the coast from Calais. The winner of the tie, which will be shown on the BBC website, will qualify for the BJK Cup Finals.

The biggest obstacle for both Raducanu and Boulter is their inexperience on clay. Boulter has enjoyed the best year of her career, rising to a career high of world No 27, but at 28 has played just five tournaments on clay. She describes her inexperience as a reflection of her physical issues.

“I don’t have anything against clay,” said Boulter, smiling. “But in the past the timing hasn’t been quite right, I had my back [injury] when it was the clay-court season, I had my foot [injury] when it was the clay-court season, the timing just hasn’t quite worked. So I think for me, I’ve tried to keep things very simple and not change surfaces too much due to the risk of injury, which in the past has been an issue with me. So to negate that I’ve tried very hard to stay off it. But again, I’ve been playing this past week and ­loving every minute of it.”

Two years ago Raducanu was in a similar position. Despite winning a grand slam title, her first Billie Jean King Cup appearance against the Czech Republic marked her first senior match, at any level, on clay. Raducanu’s wrist and foot surgeries last year took away the opportunity to gain more experience on the surface. “I think in the future, it’s going to be a surface that will actually really suit me, I think, maybe I’m a little bit away from that right now, but I’m enjoying it,” said Raducanu.

After a positive week at Indian Wells last month, Raducanu was forced to withdraw from the Miami Open with a lower back injury. The 21-year-old says she returned to training quickly and she has had “two good weeks” on the clay.

For both Boulter and Raducanu, the tie will also hopefully mark the first in what could be an extensive period on clay, with the Olympics to be played at Roland Garros at the end of July after Wimbledon. Boulter’s breakout year, which began right at the beginning of the Olympic ranking period, means she is already a lock for Paris: “The Olympics has always been something I wanted to play as a kid, and to be a part of. So for me, that is definitely a priority. I’ll be playing if I can,” she said.

Raducanu, though, will likely have to rely on the two quota places available for former grand slam champions and Olympic gold medallists ranked inside the top 400. With Caroline Wozniacki, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu also currently outside the top 100 and attempting to qualify on merit, competition for those quota spots may be fierce.

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