MELBOURNE (AFP, REUTERS) - Surprise US Open champion Emma Raducanu said on Saturday (Jan 15) she was "proud" to be playing in her first Australian Open, pointing out that a year ago she was still studying for school exams.
Raducanu made history as an 18-year-old at Flushing Meadows in September by becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title - and the first British woman in 44 years to lift one of the sport's four Majors.
Prior to that, she had reached the last 16 at Wimbledon on debut, and now will be making her maiden appearance in the main draw in Melbourne, where she is determined to revel in the experience.
"I played a few years ago in the juniors," she told reporters at Melbourne Park ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year which begins on Monday (Jan 17).
"Coming back here playing in the main draw so soon, I feel quite proud of this achievement."
She said a year ago she was watching the tournament on TV from her home in London and could never have dreamed of where she is now.
"Twelve months ago, I was just in my room studying for my exams. (I couldn't imagine) to be here in Australia, I was watching from afar last year.
"I just feel very grateful to have this opportunity to play here. Hopefully we'll get out there and see the fans here. Yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing it."
Raducanu, seeded 17, has a tough first-round draw against 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
"I watched Sloane win the US Open," said Raducanu.
"I hit with her last year, actually. Yeah, great opponent. Obviously you don't win a Grand Slam without being very capable. I think it's going to be a tough match for sure."
Raducanu has endured a difficult time since her historic achievement in New York, winning only two matches in four tournaments since New York.
She also tested positive last month for coronavirus and had to isolate, which hampered her build-up to the new season - her first full year on the WTA Tour.
"I feel, because of the last few months I've had, maybe I haven't played as much as I would have liked to and trained so much," said Raducanu.
"I feel like there's actually no pressure on me. I'm just happy to be here and have a swing. I had to jump a few hurdles to play here, so (I) just want to go out there and have fun and enjoy on the court."
The 19-year-old played her first match of the year in Sydney last Tuesday and lost 6-0, 6-1 to Kazakh Elena Rybakina, a defeat she put down to rustiness rather than any lingering effects of Covid-19.
"It was definitely a lack of practice," she said. "I think I played maybe six, seven, really not many hours at all.
"I wasn't tested physically in that match, the points were over so fast.
"It will be good to keep building and see. I'm currently feeling physically good."