Entering Wimbledon, Emma Raducanu carries a heavy load of expectations

The British tennis-sphere took its breath away at the start of the month.

For the third time this year, teenage sensation Emma Raducanu had to retire mid-match due to injury. Just weeks before Wimbledon, his participation in the event, the sport’s most anticipated homecoming in years, looked threatened.

A long headline from the Daily Mail sums it up like this:

Emma Raducanu has ‘no idea’ if she’ll be fit for Wimbledon as she retires just 33 minutes from her first match on grass since last summer after the US Open champion struggled for just seven games with a ‘weird’ injury to his left side.” (Underline theirs.)

A day later, however, Raducanu, who is 19, let it be known that she expects to be fine for Wimbledon, which begins on Monday. But there will still be nervousness until she takes her first steps, most likely on center court, and maybe manages to win her opening match. A kingdom dreams.

“It’s stress that really goes beyond the scale,” said Annabel Croft, a former British professional and young rising star who is one of a handful of women with an idea of ​​the kind of pressure Raducanu is under.

Wimbledon is where it all started a year ago for Raducanu. At the time, she was just weeks away from taking her college entrance exams, a virtually unknown player with smooth shots and an ability to glide across the court. Raducanu reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, charming fans with her athleticism and graceful style before retiring with breathing difficulties against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.

It turned out that this race was just a warm-up. Two months later, at the US Open, she won 10 consecutive matches en route to the title. Raducanu has become the first British woman to win a Grand Slam title since Virginia Wade in 1977.

Raducanu, a British citizen born in Canada to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father, was apparently built for the global sporting stardom that followed.

There was the Met Gala, then millions of dollars in sponsorships from the most prestigious companies – Porsche, Tiffany and Co., British Airways, Evian, Dior and Vodafone, and so on. Now, when someone says “Emma” in Britain, it’s more likely to mean Raducanu than Jane Austen. She has become the ultimate game disruptor.

Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American, said in May Raducanu had changed the way she sees winning a Grand Slam title – meaning she now believes anyone can do it, even her. Gauff made the French Open final earlier this month.

Raducanu’s unlikely path could inspire more players: becoming a Grand Slam winner while avoiding tennis academy life and preparing to attend one of England’s legendary universities. Win one of the sport’s four major championships on just the second try. Do it with apparent immunity to pressure.

Raducanu recently announced that she has decided not to hire a full-time coach. She went through four, and she determined that what she really needed were some high-intensity punching partners. “Sparring”, as she said recently. This will get him more accustomed to the rhythm of high-level tennis. Playing without a coach is also something that most top players simply don’t do.

For this disruption to be successful, at some point Raducanu’s results will need to return to the level it reached at the end of last summer. His record is an undistinguished 8-11 this year.

She and her former coaches said she was tripped by Covid-19 in December, which interrupted her off-season training. She entered the season in diminished physical condition. This may have led to nagging injuries and not having the season she was hoping for. She said recently that due to winning the US Open and the 2,000 points she generated, her ranking (No. 11) is probably better than her game.

All of this, of course, would be fine if Raducanu was just another player entering her second year as a full-time professional. Raducanu is so new to this life that last month in Paris, where she played in the French Open main draw for the first time, she said she was looking forward to her second full year as a pro because she would no longer be. no idea of ​​his surroundings each week.

“I always ask where everything is,” she said.

And yet, Raducanu is the defending US Open champion and the first Grand Slam champion to emerge from a qualifying tournament. She was the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year for 2021, and the reason the Lawn Tennis Association, which oversees tennis in Britain, has been reporting a boom in attendance since September.

For seven consecutive months, monthly adult participation has steadily increased, said organization spokesman John Dolan. Women’s participation in the first three months of 2022 was higher than it has been in the past five years. The annual participation of 16 to 34 year olds is up 10%.

“My academy is full of little boys and girls who want to be next,” said Clinton Coleman, global scout for IMG, the world’s largest sports representation company and chief professional at a London tennis centre, about the Raducanu phenomenon. “Never seen anything like it.”

Simon Briggs, the tennis correspondent for the Telegraph, one of Britain’s leading news agencies, said a year ago he thought he was going to have to find another job. Andy Murray’s career had reached its twilight and Britain’s talent pool seemed to be stretched thin.

Then Raducanu made the fourth round of Wimbledon. Briggs had to write a story about her practically every day once she started the summer hard-court season in North America. Three days after Raducanu lost in the second round of the French Open, Briggs continued to file stories about him.

“She has to be the biggest story in women’s sports here since World War II,” Briggs said last week.

Jo Durie, one of Britain’s top 10 female tennis players of the 1970s who commentated on tennis for the BBC, said people who don’t even follow the sport often stop her in the market to ask about Raducanu.

“She’s so well known that people expect her to play well and win all the time,” Durie said. “Of course, that’s not fair. She is so young.

It’s possible that only Christine Truman could figure out what Raducanu’s transformation into “Emma” was really like. Truman, 81, reached the Wimbledon semi-finals aged 16 and won the French Open two years later. The victory earned him a voucher worth 40 pounds ($112 in the United States at the time) which could not be used on anything tennis related as it would then violate the rules of professionalism. But she became a household name practically overnight.

She was tall and blond and easily recognizable and couldn’t get to the bread line, or take the escalator to the subway, or visit the druggist without being stopped. She met Winston Churchill, who had sent her congratulatory telegrams. He was quite old by then, though it was still a thrill for her.

“Winston is the tennis girl,” Clementine Churchill told her husband, who shook Truman’s hand.

In her mid-twenties, Truman said, she thought she could both “have fun” and stay on top of the game. It didn’t work out so well.

His advice to Raducanu?

“Remember what made you good and don’t lose sight of it,” she said in an interview last week.

And hire a coach.

“They can boost you when you’re doing well and cheer you up when you doubt yourself,” she said. “If they believe it, it rubs off on you.”

nytimes sport

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