Emma Raducanu
Emma Raducanu is back on the tennis court after wrist and ankle surgeries kept her on the sidelines for most of last year. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

British tennis star Emma Raducanu suffered a three-set round of 16 defeat to Ukraine's Elina Svitolina at the ASB Classic in Auckland on Thursday.

This was just the second match on the WTA tour that Raducanu had played in since last April, as the 2021 US Open Women's Singles Champion had to undergo surgeries on her wrists and left ankle last year. This kept her out of action for the second half of the 2023 season.

Raducanu made her return from injury in the round of 32 at the ASB Classic on Tuesday, where she overcame Romania's Elena-Gabriela Ruse in three sets, winning 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

The match against second seed Svitolina started off well for Raducanu as she managed to find herself 5-1 up in the first set. Despite this lead, Raducanu was unable to put away the set swiftly and had to go all the way to a tiebreaker, where she eventually won the set 7-6 (7-5).

The second set was just as compelling as the first as it went to a tiebreaker again, with Raducanu being close to victory as she led 3-1 in the deciding game for the second set. However, Svitolina showed her class as she won six successive points to win the second set 7-6 (7-3) and level the match.

With the opening two sets going all the way to a tie-break, Raducanu exerted plenty of energy and began to feel the pace of the match once the third set began. Her lack of minutes on the court began to show as unforced errors and double faults crept into her game, with Svitolina comfortably wrapping up the deciding set, 6-1, in just half an hour.

Raducanu's collapse in the deciding set is understandable given the amount of time she has spent off the court recently and the rehabilitation she has had to go through for multiple injuries. A fresh concern for the Brit will be that she may have an issue with her right thigh, as she played with a significant amount of strapping around it in the defeat to Svitolina.

Despite her defeat, Raducanu was optimistic after the match, commenting: "I can take away that I played a high level for two, long sets. I'm proud of how quickly I was able to get my level up."

She added: "To be able to play like I did for two sets, in my second match back, the level was raised really quickly."

Svitolina will go on to face the number five seed and Czech Republic star, Marie Bouzkova, in the quarter-finals on Friday. Also left in the ASB Classic is the number one seed and reigning US Open Women's Singles Champion, Coco Gauff, who will be viewed as the favourite to come out on top in Auckland.

Raducanu would have been hoping for a longer stint at the ASB Classic as it is the last competitive action she is involved in before the Australian Open begins on January 14th in Melbourne. The upcoming Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam that Raducanu competes in since last year's second-round exit in the competition to Gauff.

Previously, Raducanu's involvement at the 2024 Australian Open looked to be dependent on going through the qualifying process, as her absence from the court caused her WTA ranking to plummet.

However, America's Lauren Davis' withdrawal from the tournament has handed Raducanu a place into the main draw and means she will not have to go through the qualifying process to enter the tournament.

In her two appearances at the Australian Open, Raducanu has never got past the second round, so that will be a target she hopes to overcome at this year's competition. She will find out her first-round opponent for the year-opening Grand Slam when the draw takes place on January 11th.