‘This girl is serious’: the making of Emma Raducanu | Emma Raducanu


Emma Raducanu’s unprecedented run to the US Open final so soon after committing to the sport isn’t the first time she’s barged in and demanded attention.

In November 2015, just three days after her 13th birthday, which meant she could finally compete in international under-18 tournaments, Raducanu traveled to Liverpool for the Nike Junior International tournament. Five games later, she had won the event.

Prior to her arrival on the International Tennis Federation’s junior circuit, Raducanu’s tennis days were complemented by go-karting and later motocross, but as she approached adolescence her tennis abilities slowly began. to attract attention. She has won international events at the U11 and U12 level and in the midst of her successes, she joined the LTA course, joining her team for camps and trips abroad.

“When I started to see results from the start of these trips, it really opened my eyes to be able to do something,” she said Thursday. “But I never really realized I would have a career in tennis until maybe two years ago. I still have my education in store. I was doing it alongside my tennis.

Since then, although she competed little as a junior, her name was on most lips. Katie O’Brien, former top 100 player and Britain’s No.1 who is now the Lawn Tennis Association’s national women’s tennis coach, has heard them all. Then, one day in a national club competition shortly after retiring, she performed alongside a 13-year-old Raducanu in doubles: an interview, smiling. “Even at that age, she thrived under pressure and loved to perform in front of a crowd.”

Raducanu playing a girls’ singles match at Wimbledon in 2017. Photograph: Steven Paston / PA

Soon Raducanu really arrived. She started 2018 by winning three junior grade 2 tournaments, then reached the quarter-finals of Junior Wimbledon and the US Open. With just seven tournaments and no doubles in his junior rankings, Raducanu had reached the top 20.

According to Matt James, who worked with her from September 2018 to 2020, her game was already extremely well balanced but her body was her only obstacle: “She was picking up a lot of little worries,” he said in an interview. “She wouldn’t really go back to back in a tournament. If she went far enough in a tournament, it would be quite difficult for her to support him. But when you think about it, she was obviously still in school, not having as much time in professional events. It was always going to be catching up.

Despite many successful weeks of training with Raducanu, it was on their first trip to Antalya, Turkey that he really realized the level of potential he was working with. The mental space that Raducanu inhabited once she stepped onto the pitch was a revelation: “She went there, she won everything in straight sets and improved in every game,” he said. he declares.

“It was the first time I saw this different personality, almost, on the match field. I had been practicing it for six to eight weeks. It was like, ‘Wow, this girl means some serious stuff here.’ A year later, during a three-week trip to India, his courage provoked a similar reaction. Despite food poisoning shortly before the trip, she qualified for a $ 25,000 (£ 18,000) event to win what remains the biggest title of her career.

For James, this mental toughness quickly became his hallmark and his composure is rooted in his refusal to give up even a bit of hope to his opponent by diffusing negative emotions. Off the pitch, his personality defies categorization. She enjoys quiet moments alone, but when she is surrounded by other contemporaries, her intelligence and humor shine through.

Raducanu on a media day at the Queen's Club in London in January 2020
Raducanu at a media day at the Queen’s Club in London in January 2020. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield / Getty Images for LTA

“If there aren’t a lot of players around, she’s not going to force it. She is quite happy in her own company. But she’s also happy to be in the middle of the attention. She always adapts. Even off the pitch, she always adapts to the situation, ”he said with a laugh.

In New York, LTA Women’s Tennis Manager Iain Bates was also impressed with her ability to adapt off the court: “Even chatting with her after games or on game mornings, it can be n ‘ no matter where, ”he said. “And that’s what I find quite remarkable, is how balanced she is despite the tremendous attention and pressure that has been put on her.”

As the tennis world returned to action after the initial lockdowns, Raducanu took a different path. She participated in local national tournaments affiliated with the tours, but she and her parents decided not to participate in the international tour. Many people hail his team and family’s decision to focus on slowly building a more balanced person rather than obsessing over ranking points and putting pressure on themselves, as it can be. tennis.

“I don’t think it confused Emma or her parents too much,” O’Brien said. “They obviously put a lot of emphasis on education and I think it served Emma pretty well. She has a really mature head on her shoulders. You could argue that if she had been taken out of school at the age of 11, she might not have taken the pressure as well. James agrees: “I think that was the plan from the start, almost:” Pigs to reach A levels [an A in maths and an A* in economics this summer] and then go full blast from there.

Raducanu visiting his old school in Bromley
Raducanu visiting his old school in Bromley in July. Photograph: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

O’Brien particularly attributes these decisions to Raducanu’s upbringing and the lack of toxic pressure on her to be successful. “They’re looking at the holistic approach,” she says. “They are incredibly thorough and everything has Emma’s best interests at heart. But one thing – I am currently participating in an Under 14 tournament – the worst thing parents can do is pass their anxiety on to their children. I think the Raducanus have done very well. You don’t see too many reactions watching Emma play, if at all.

From his breakthrough until the 4th round on grass at Wimbledon, Raducanu changed coaches, stopping working with Nigel Sears to reunite with his former coach, Andrew Richardson. Speaking about her experience at Wimbledon, she pointed out that her 4th round retirement with breathing difficulties had taught her to focus more on her fitness. She demonstrated her improvement with nine wins in three weeks in New York.

The decisions that led Raducanu to play his first Grand Slam final on Saturday have always been based on patience and perspective. No matter how the chips end up falling, this is just the start.

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