By Rohith Nair
(Reuters) - Emma Raducanu taking on Coco Gauff in the second round of the Australian Open is not a match one would have predicted a year ago when the two prodigies were in the top 20, but such is the unforgiving nature of a highly-competitive pro Tour.
Raducanu was playing at her peak and riding a wave of unprecedented success after breaking through in 2021 and clinching the U.S. Open while Gauff was making strides and reaching the second week of Grand Slams.
But Raducanu failed to find consistency last year as she was ravaged by injuries and underwent several coaching changes to fall to 77th in the rankings, while Gauff reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros and now sits at number seven.
Gauff and Raducanu are seen as the torch-bearers of a new era of women's tennis following the retirements of Ash Barty and Serena Williams, with the organisers scheduling their clash for the prime-time slot in the night session at Rod Laver Arena.
Such is their star attraction at such a young age that top seeds Iga Swiatek and defending champion Rafa Nadal's matches have been relegated to the day session.
"I'm really looking forward to this match, I'm very up for it. Coco has obviously done a lot of great things and she's playing well," said Raducanu, who overcame an ankle issue to advance.
"She's a great athlete with some big weapons... I think we're both good, young players, we're both coming through, part of the next generation of tennis really. It's going to be a great match."
While the entire hopes of a nation rest on Raducanu as the lone Briton left in the women's draw, Gauff said she is not under the same pressure as the 20-year-old with several Americans in Melbourne to share the load.
"Being from the U.K., the first British person to do something in a long time, probably is a lot more pressure than what I'm used to being an American," 18-year-old Gauff said.
World number one Swiatek takes on Camila Osorio, who became the first Colombian woman in 15 years to win a match in the main draw in Melbourne while American third seed Jessica Pegula faces Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Nadal looked rusty in his four-sets victory over Jack Draper but he was glad to get his first win of the season ahead of his match against Mackenzie McDonald, who came through a punishing five-setter against compatriot Brandon Nakashima.
"I am not playing bad, you know? Just need to hold the positive level for longer time," Nadal said.
"I am in a moment that I am more up and down. But as I said, it's part of the business."
The night session wraps up with third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas taking on local hope and 21-year-old wildcard Rinky Hijikata.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)