The French Open banana skin awaiting Emma Raducanu

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Emma Raducanu of Great Britain during a training session on day 1 of the 2022 French Open at Roland Garros on May 22, 2022 in Paris, France - Emma Raducanu draws reigning junior champion on French Open debut - GETTY IMAGES
Emma Raducanu of Great Britain during a training session on day 1 of the 2022 French Open at Roland Garros on May 22, 2022 in Paris, France - Emma Raducanu draws reigning junior champion on French Open debut - GETTY IMAGES

Emma Raducanu being drawn against a qualifier in the first round of Roland Garros may have, on paper, appeared the breeziest start imaginable. But 17-year-old Linda Noskova could turn out to be a banana skin in reality.

The up-and-coming Czech is the reigning junior champion in Paris and who, last year - while still sporting braces and only 16 - lifted the trophy on Court 14 here.

Though she is still only ranked 184th in the world, she has climbed 80 places since December, winning three titles on the ITF circuit since last June, and her comfort on these courts could pose a huge threat to Raducanu on Monday. "It's my favourite grand slam, even though I've been only to two or three," a quietly spoken Noskova told press on Sunday. "I definitely have a lot of memories from the finals last year, and it's great to be back."

Noskova's nascent career has been more conventional than Raducanu's, choosing to ply her trade on the ITF circuit over the past couple of years, only venturing up to WTA tour events once since last May when she lost in the first round of qualifying at the Serbia Open.

Her experience at the top level remains minor, even compared to rookie Raducanu, but that may well work in her favour as it will give the British No 1 the mental challenge of playing as the outright favourite. That remains fairly new territory for her, especially at a major event.

Since her spectacular US Open victory last September, Raducanu has been grappling with having a target on her back but, despite her No 12 ranking, has arguably been the underdog against most opponents based on her deficit of experience. Against Noskova, though, that is simply not the case.

'The things Raducanu did at the US Open were just incredible - I definitely look up to her'

Raducanu is two years her senior, a major champion and with many more tour-level matches under her belt. She is the overwhelming front runner on Monday, and her ability to cope with that different kind of pressure will be interesting.

While she has proven she can rise to the occasion at the majors, this is also her first Roland Garros and still only the 10th clay match of her senior career. Her progress on the surface has been promising thus far, her 5-4 win-loss record a decent haul considering she had not stepped on clay in four years ahead of the Billie Jean King Cup in Prague last month, where her crash course on the red stuff began.

Noskova watched Raducanu's performance against her compatriots with interest and was impressed with her level, as she was watching her achieve the impossible in New York. "She's definitely a role model," Noskova said. "The things she did at the US Open was just incredible. I definitely look up to her but it's my opponent for tomorrow. I'm gonna treat her with respect but also without respect. It obviously would mean the world to me [to beat her]."

Noskova's three matches in qualifying helped her get reacquainted with these courts over the past week and gave her a "boost", while Raducanu has not played competitively in 12 days, after she retired with a stiff back in Rome.

Her first test of fitness in Paris should not be underestimated.

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