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Emma Raducanu seeking her definitive Wimbledon moment.

Briton will face Maria Sakkari for the first time since her victory in the US Open semi-final three years ago

Maria Sakkari entered Arthur Ashe Stadium for her 2021 US Open semi-final in the middle of a career-­defining breakout season. A few months earlier, she had been a point away from the French Open final before freezing under pressure and suffering a heartbreaking loss to Barbora Krejcikova. Still, she picked herself back up and showed her resilience by reaching another major semi-final in New York, where a massive opportunity presented itself for whoever was bold enough to take it.

 

 

 

 

 

As she faced off against Emma Raducanu at Flushing Meadows, Sakkari was again struck by nerves. She started the contest dressed in a skirt that was a size too large and while she was preoccupied by her outfit in the early stages, fiddling with it and repeatedly complaining to her team, a cold-blooded Raducanu seized the moment, easing to a 6-1, 6-4 win and never looked back.

Three years later, the pair face each other in the third round here with another significant opportunity on the line. After the first-round loss of the eighth seed, Zheng Qinwen, Sakkari is the highest ranked player left inside the quarter and the winner will face either Lulu Sun, a qualifier, or the unseeded Zhu Lin for a place in the quarter-finals. After two rounds, a new Wimbledon semi-finalist is ­guaranteed in the open third quarter of the draw.

Regardless of how things turn out, Raducanu should leave Wimbledon with even more evidence she is on the right track after an excellent grass court season. She has followed up a semi-final at the Nottingham Open and quarter-finals in Eastbourne with her first run to the third round of a grand slam tournament since her US Open win.

This is the most sustained period of high-level tennis Raducanu has produced and her six top-50 wins over the past couple of months are as many as she managed between October 2021 and the start of this year.

After managing the tension and nerves of the occasion in her first-round win against the lucky loser Renata Zarazua, Raducanu opened her shoulders and struck the ball with total freedom as she smothered Elise Mertens, a quality opponent, in straight sets on Wednesday.

For Raducanu, her performances have further highlighted her decision to skip the French Open qualifiers in favour of a training block.

Sakkari is incredibly fast and strong and she pairs her immense athleticism with a solid serve and heavy groundstrokes. However, despite establishing herself as a perennial top-10 player, rising as high as No 3 and producing consistent results at the regular WTA ­tournaments, she has consistently struggled with the pressure of grand slams. Coming into Wimbledon, she had suffered four first-round losses and one second-round defeat in her past five grand slams.

Simply winning two consecutive matches at a major tournament is a step forward for Sakkari, but Friday will be another significant challenge. She will head into enemy territory on Centre Court against an opponent who will have the entire crowd behind her, another test of her ability to handle the nerves.

After facing two scrappy opponents who forced her to generate her own pace, Raducanu will at least be able to feed off and redirect the pace generated by Sakkari.

Which player will be bold enough to take their opportunities this time around?

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