Emma Raducanu smiles so often it makes you wonder if she’s discovered the elixir for tennis competition. Is she smiling because she’s winning so much, or winning so much because she’s smiling? Probably both.
The shock US Open champion provided an answer after demolishing Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0, 6-1 in the third round. “When I play my best is when I’m having fun and smiling,” Raducanu said. “That’s when the best tennis comes out, and sometimes shots you never expect to make, then come off your strings and they happen.”
Teen queens have fascinated the sporting public ever since 15-year-old Charlotte “Lottie” Dod won the first of her five Wimbledon titles way back in 1887. The personalities of these prodigies have spanned the spectrum. They’ve been ice-cool like Chris Evert and Maria Sharapova, gigglers like Monica Seles, laser-focused like Steffi Graf and Tracy Austin, pathologically driven like Maureen Connolly, and snarling like Serena Williams. The insouciant Evonne Goolagong comes closest to the happy, carefree Raducanu.
In royal company: US Open Champion Emma Raducanu plays a game of tennis with Kate Middletown, the Duchess of Cambridge (L), at the LTA Centre in London, England. – Getty Images
But don’t mistake the Englishwoman’s genial nature for a lack of competitiveness or ambition. “I have a hunger to win every single match I play,” she said after disposing of Belinda Bencic, the Olympic gold medallist, 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. “So I don’t want to get ahead of myself at all, just focus one point at a time. I’ve gotten to this stage, and I don’t want to change anything.”
Raducanu’s stylish strokes, natural athleticism, and tenacity endeared her to New Yorkers. But she also understood they relished battlers like Jimmy Connors who engage them. So when she took the critical first set of the semifinal with a forehand winner against Maria Sakkari, she raised her arms to ignite the crowd.
Modesty, another appealing trait, tempers Raducanu’s confidence. “Personally, I’m surprised that I’m here,” she confided following her 6-4, 6-4 victory over 17th-seeded Sakkari, who had upset 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu and 2021 Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova. “I didn’t expect it. I knew I was doing a lot of great work and it would pay off some day, but you never know when. So I’m just super appreciative of the moment.”
Raducanu’s reverence for tennis history was also impressive, considering her youth. Like Rod Laver, the last men’s Grand Slammer who regularly attended Novak Djokovic’s matches, Virginia Wade, the last British woman to win a major (the 1977 Wimbledon), was there rooting for Emma. “It means so much to have Virginia here… to have such British legends and icons for me to follow in their footsteps,” Raducanu told the cheering crowd after the final. “It really helps and it definitely gave me the belief that I could actually do it.”
Emma is quick to credit her team. “I’ve got an absolutely amazing team here with me,” she told the crowd after the semifinals. “Will [Herbert, her physiotherapist], he’s keeping me in one piece, and I also have a team back home that is watching.”
Raducanu, an only child, was referring to Ian, her Romanian father, and Renee, her Chinese mother. “I’ve always been cool and composed because that has been drilled into me by my parents,” she told ESPN. “When I was seven or eight and I didn’t behave, they would tell me I won’t play tennis again.” That strict discipline, however, hasn’t inhibited Emma in any way. She added, “There’s definitely an element of being young and free.”
It’s an article of faith in the tennis world that young, rising stars are oblivious to pressure, and that veterans are often scared of losing to them. But, in fact, some young stars, such as Grand Slam winners Iga Swiatek and Andreescu, use sports psychologists to cope, and Naomi Osaka has confided about her mental health issues so debilitating they’ve sidelined her from the tour twice this year.
Whatever pressure Raducanu may feel, she surely doesn’t show it in her body language. For every US Open main draw match, she strolled onto the court as relaxed as if she were playing a practice set or two back home in the south London suburb of Bromley. During on-court interviews after matches, she often placed her hands on her hips, projecting self-confidence. Raducanu cleverly downplayed the high stakes by saying, “At the end of the day, I’m a qualifier, so there’s no pressure.” As it amazingly turned out, she made history as the only qualifier of any gender ever to win a Grand Slam title, or even reach a major final.
A balanced game and a balanced life may explain her stress-free demeanour. Raducanu says her forehand is her favourite shot, while ESPN analyst Darren Cahill says “her backhand down the line is one of the best in the game.” Despite her slight, 5’7” stature, she can serve up to 110 miles per hour, and she backs that up with a strong second serve, often over 90 mph. “She has a beautiful service motion,” says former doubles star Rennae Stubbs, which accounts for both her power and consistency.
Yet another strength is her aggressive serve return, attacking every second serve from inside the baseline. Going into the final, Raducanu had at least one break point in a staggering 68% of her opponents’ service games. And she broke Leylah Fernandez’s serve four times in the final. The skillful, agile Brit can also volley with the best of them. She won 73% (11 of 15) points at net against Fernandez and 90% (9 of 10) against Sakkari.
A top-notch student, Raducanu completed her A-Level exams in June, racking up As in mathematics and economics. It’s an understatement to note Emma enjoys a wide variety of sports, some of which clearly enhance her on-court balance. She likes ballet, go-karting, horseback riding, tap dancing, golf, skiing, and basketball. And she wants to get her motorbike license. The well-rounded Raducanu hardly sounds like a candidate for mental burnout — which ruined the careers of whiz kids Jennifer Capriati (who later rebounded to win three majors) and Andrea Jaeger —or physical burnout that prematurely ended Austin’s career.
Art tribute: Children play next to a mural dedicated to British tennis player Emma Raducanu in Darlington, Britain. – REUTERS
A fast learner, Emma knew she had to make some major changes after her bittersweet Wimbledon. Ranking just 338, she streaked all the way to the fourth round. There disaster struck. Raducanu experienced breathing problems and had to retire from her match against Alja Tomljanovic. “She learned she had to manage her emotions and expectations,” said Evert, an ESPN analyst.
Raducanu took a different lesson from Wimbledon. “The biggest learning was how physically behind I am,” she said afterward.
So Raducanu changed coaches, hiring Andrew Richardson who taught her at Bromley Tennis Centre six or seven years earlier during her formative period. She also hit the gym with a vengeance. As the only girl on the tennis squad, she embarked on a gruelling weight training program to dramatically increase her strength, and she proudly displayed clips of it on Instagram. Heather Watson, a veteran British player, told The Express (UK) that Emma hip thrusts weight “most of the guys couldn’t do.”
Emma’s burning tennis ambition comes partly from trying to impress her father, a key driving force in her career. After her historic triumph, she said, “They’re watching from home very proud. My dad, he said to me, ‘You’re even better than your dad thought,’ so that was reassurance. My dad is definitely very tough to please. But I managed to today.”
Emma Raducanu became a belle of the ball at the £20,000-a-ticket Met Gala Ball in New York. Invited by Vogue magazine chief Dame Anna Wintour, the 18-year-old sensation wore a bedazzling, midriff-baring Chanel ensemble with pearls around her waist and flashed her winning smile as she mingled with showbiz elite. – AFP
The all-teenage women’s final — the first featuring two unseeded players at a major in the Open Era — upstaged the highly anticipated men’s final with Djokovic’s historic bid for a rare Grand Slam at stake. The women’s match peaked at 3.4 million viewers at 6-6:15 p.m. ET, ESPN’s highest peak of the tournament, and was watched by 17% more viewers on average than those who watched the men’s match. Reacting to the latter statistic, women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King tweeted, “Yet women’s sports receive a mere 4% of all sports media coverage. Women’s sports must be given the parity they deserve.” Raducanu received royal recognition in a message from Her Majesty The Queen, who stated, “It is a remarkable achievement at such a young age, and is a testament to your hard work and dedication.” The new queen of tennis also took a congratulatory phone call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. According to a Downing Street spokesman, Johnson “praised her determination, skill and mental strength during a series of tough matches, and said the whole of the UK had united behind her success.”
Climaxing her Cinderella story, Raducanu became a belle of the ball at the £20,000-a-ticket Met Gala Ball on Monday night in New York. Invited by Vogue magazine chief Dame Anna Wintour, a huge tennis fan, the 18-year-old sensation wore a bedazzling, midriff-baring Chanel ensemble with pearls around her waist and flashed her winning smile as she mingled with showbiz elite.
A sports marketer’s dream because of her charisma, good looks, and bi-racial appeal, Raducanu could shatter tennis endorsement records. “One of the most impressive things for me was her message in Mandarin for the Chinese audience because the major issue Western sports stars have in breaking China is the language barrier,” GlobalData head of sport analysis, Conrad Wiacek, told Reuters. “The sky is the limit as any western brand positioning itself in China would be looking at her as an ambassador… With her Chinese and Eastern Europe heritage as well as Britain, that puts her in a different stratosphere to other athletes. I’ve seen it being thrown around that she’s a potential billion-dollar athlete.”
Both of Emma’s parents work in finance, and her own interest in this field led to her visiting Wall Street before returning to her modest three-bedroom home in Bromley.
With her newfound fame and fortune, Raducanu must now keep her eyes on what created it. As Evert said, “I hope she maintains that joy and passion for the game.”