Who reading this, even those who may not have affection for or affiliation with the game of tennis, could have failed to be mesmerised by the recent Raducanu journey, which concluded with her becoming the first ever qualifier to win one of the game’s primary sporting events, a Grand Slam, at the weekend?
It’s not going to be easy as the level of interest is unprecedented. There is no template but I think she needs proper management from not too many people. Clifford Bloxham
I say ‘concluded’ but more accurately, her success, which includes a US Open credit of £1.8 million into her bank account, marks the beginning of a whole new stellar lifestyle of fame and fortune, one that has already projected her from obscure anonymity to global stardom.
Just three months ago, Raducanu was just another British tennis teenager who was tipped, like so many before her, for success. After a trio of televised wins at Wimbledon which saw her reach the fourth round of the game’s most expansive tournament, the unthinkable happened in full public gaze. After suffering ‘breathing difficulties’, she was advised by Women’s Tennis Association medical personnel to retire from her match with Australian, Ajla Tomljanović.
Such a public downfall might have crushed many teenagers, particularly as it came on the back of World No 2 Naomi Osaka’s brazen withdrawal from the very event which Raducanu was hoping to progress in. Bravely, though, Raducanu accepted the advice of those around her, and in that one act, she demonstrated a maturity beyond her years. Her time, she was told, would come. And it has.
So what now for Emma Raducanu, I wonder? Do we envy her, or fear for her?
According to player agent, Octagon’s Clifford Bloxham, who knows Emma and the family well, she is well positioned to cope with what is ahead.
“It’s not going to be easy as the level of interest is unprecedented. There is no template but I think she needs proper management from not too many people. It’s good that she has Tim (Henman) with her, and Andrew Richardson, also LTA support. And she obviously loves the game and that needs to be her priority, over and above all of the things she will be asked to do.”
Emma Raducanu finds herself in uncharted territory. What can she do to help her plan for life in the limelight?
Perhaps firstly, she needs to choose well those she allows into her inner circle. Who has her best interests at heart? Who can she trust?
Emma has already acknowledged her parents, mother Renee, from China and Romanian father Ian, as influential in helping her develop her positive attitude. The family moved from Canada to London when Emma was two years old. Such rich, mixed heritage, certainly seems to have helped her on her way. She can, and no doubt will, build a strong team around her which will help her make decisions in her best interests.
Secondly, she may want to consider that less activity now may mean more later; more time, more space, more mental energy. Accepting every invitation that comes her way may not be the best way to fill her diary. She is extremely marketable, but outside overkill can be unhelpful to her primary objective, tennis.
In many ways, the US Open was the perfect Grand Slam for Raducanu to win. It’s the last one of the season, and the next one, in Melbourne in January, is far from her home in a different time zone. Media attention will level off. Raducanu has an opportunity now to take stock of what she has done and set up the building blocks in preparation for 2022.
As Iain Bates, who heads up British women’s tennis for the LTA, said to the BBC, “There has to be a degree of perspective in that Emma’s not yet played a full year on tour. I think we should be optimistic for the future but we might need to give her some time to find her feet and develop into a player who hopefully we can watch for many years.”
Of course, diarising well will benefit her mental wellbeing. She will not be immune from the fallout from Naomi Osaka’s situation, let alone that of American Olympian, Simone Biles, who withdrew from the Japan Olympics in the summer to focus on her mental health.
Attempting a balanced lifestyle for a tennis player, indeed for any performance athlete, is a tall order. Demands on Raducanu’s time will be overwhelming. Saying ‘no’ to invitations will be hard. But Raducanu has proved that, if nothing else, she is determined. She needs to own her own agenda and that should include spending occasional time with friends outside of tennis and some ‘me time’.
She will be looking to avoid the pressures that could threaten her mental health, at all costs.
And then there is her physical wellbeing.
The road marked ‘aspiring champion’ is littered with sporting casualties. Going right back in time to the likes of Americans Andrea Jaeger and Tracy Austin, through to more recent retirees like Laura Robson, whose promising career was cut short when forced to retire at 24 with wrist and knee injuries, the tennis casualty ward remains constantly busy.
Former British No 1 and Great Britain’s current Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong recognises the dangers. “Probably the biggest problem we have with young players is the number of injuries they sustain from a young age, which I find quite worrying. Emma’s got something special, but the immediate concern for me is her competing on a regular basis and looking after her body.”
The recent acquisition of Will Herbert, former trainer of Alexander Zverev, on to Raducanu’s team, will help.
Finally, as well as becoming US Open champion, she has, whether she likes it or not, become a role model for the sport of tennis, perhaps even for aspiring young women around the world. That tag comes with responsibility.
Tennis legend, Virginia Wade, says that Raducanu winning a Grand Slam would “do infinite things for British tennis and inspire more young players – particular female ones – to pick up a racket.”
It’s a heavy weight for an 18-year-old to carry but as Bloxham says, she is “well adjusted, well balanced, with good values, and supportive parents.”
Three times cycling Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins once famously said, ‘no one told me what would happen after I won the gold medal.”
It’s a dilemma Emma Raducanu and her family will be trying to find solutions to, right now.