Australian Open: Emma Raducanu, Cameron Norrie and Jack Draper provide cause for optimism around British tennis

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Image: Emma Raducanu emerged healthy from her long-awaited return to the court

While Britain’s singles hopes at the first Grand Slam of the year ended with Cameron Norrie’s defeat on Monday, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about British tennis after the Australian Open.

Norrie rediscovers form

After a pretty woeful end to 2023, Cameron Norrie is back on track.

The 28-year-old eased through the opening round against Juan Pablo Varillas before producing a great escape to come from two sets down to beat Italian Giulio Zeppieri in five sets.

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One might have assumed it would be tough for Norrie to go again after that three-and-a-half-hour contest, but he had plenty left in the tank.

He would deliver one of his best performances at a Grand Slam to oust 11th seed Casper Ruud in the third round, coming through a fiercely competitive four-set contest in just over three hours

Image: Cameron Norrie almost rediscovered some of his best tennis in Melbourne

While Norrie’s campaign would come to an end against sixth seed Alexander Zverev, the gutsy way in which he pushed the German to a match tie-break in the fifth set was hugely promising.

Norrie was able to hang with the former Grand Slam finalist across four hours, and showed he has got himself into prime condition with his off-season training.

He was able to go on a fine run after the Australian Open last year, finishing as runner-up in Buenos Aires before beating Carlos Alcaraz to win the title in Rio de Janeiro a week later.

Norrie will be looking to use his performance in Melbourne as a springboard for a similarly bright start to the season, with a return to the world’s top 10 his stated target.

Raducanu comes through return unscathed

It feels as though Emma Raducanu has been around forever, but the 2021 US Open champion is still only 21.

Having been plagued by injuries in 2023, she made her long-awaited return to the court in Auckland ahead of the Australian Open.

There were concerns as she pulled out of two warm-up matches in the week preceding the tournament, but that was forgotten about when she dominated American Shelby Rogers for a 6-3 6-2 first-round win.

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Highlights of Emma Raducanu’s match against Elena-Gabriela Ruse at the Auckland Classic

As was the case in Auckland, Raducanu exited in the second round but delivered a performance that provided plenty of encouragement, losing a near three-hour contest to Yafan Wang.

The fantastic and fearless tennis that has established Raducanu as one of the most watchable players in the sport was on show, but a lack of time on court showed as she struggled physically.

Ultimately, the most important thing was for Raducanu to emerge from her trip to Australia healthy, and that’s exactly what she appears to have done.

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The Brit is likely to face challenging draws as she looks to rebuild from 296 in the world rankings, but that could present some thrilling early-tournament matchups against seeded players over the coming weeks.

The next tournament she is expected to feature in is the Abu Dhabi Open, which begins on February 5, live on Sky Sports.

Did Draper peak too soon?

Another young Brit whose progress has been slowed by injuries, Jack Draper got his year off to a flier by reaching the final at his chosen warm-up event in Adelaide.

The only issue with that impressive run was that the final took place on Saturday, the day before the Australian Open began, giving him little time to settle at Melbourne Park.

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Jack Draper came out on top against Jiri Lehecka after an incredible rally in the second set of the match in the Adelaide final

It was therefore little surprise Draper was not quite at his best for his opening-round clash with Marcos Giron as he fell 2-1 down.

However, the 22-year-old got into his groove to win the final two sets for the loss of just two games and set up a second-round clash with 14th seed Tommy Paul.

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A good measuring stick for Draper, Paul proved too much on this occasion in a competitive four-set match.

Most importantly, Draper came through healthy, and can now focus on what should be a swift rise from 55 in the ATP rankings if he can stay fit.

Boulter sets platform for crucial campaign

After a couple of brilliant wins representing Great Britain at the United Cup, Katie Boulter arrived in Melbourne knowing she can trouble just about anyone in the game.

A solid first-round display against Yue Yuan ensured that she reached the Australian Open second round for just the second time in her career.

Image: Katie Boulter reached the Australian Open second round for just the second time

Boulter has been floating around the main draw cut off for lots of tournaments, meaning every win at a Grand Slam is crucial in bumping her ranking up a crucial few places to avoid having to qualify for events over the coming weeks.

Boulter’s campaign was ended in the second round by 12th seed Qinwen Zheng, but the fact the Chinese player has eased on to the semi-finals puts the defeat in context.

At 27, Boulter has been something of a late developer, but must now use the platform she has given herself to look for a career-best campaign.

The last dance for Murray?

It was a bit of a trip to forget for Sir Andy Murray, as an uninspiring warm-up was followed by a lacklustre first-round defeat to Tomas Martin Etcheverry in Melbourne.

The comprehensive nature of the loss left Murray in reflective mood as he admitted the match could have been his last at the tournament.

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Andy Murray has been spending his time in Australia wisely, having learned how to complete a Rubik’s Cube in rapid time

While he is right that there is not much point continuing if he cannot summon a higher level, Murray will no doubt he motivated to prove wrong anyone writing him off.

Murray’s current schedule has him slated to return to action at the Qatar Open on February 20, but he could seek court time before then at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier from January 29.

Whether or not Murray can achieve the level he desires, we must savour watching the legend in the final stages of his career, for there may not be many opportunities left.

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