Emma Raducanu may not have struck a competitive ball since April, but she has hardly been out of the headlines as fans have followed her progress through 3 surgeries and her subsequent rehabilitation, which she has had to combine with her commitments to various sponsors.
I just really wanted to expand what I do off the court because, obviously, when you’re playing, you have little to no time to do anything. So, it was nice to have some time to learn new skills and do things I’d never done or tried before. At the end of the day, I’m itching to get back on court. Emma Raducanu
Finally, her return to competition seems to be on the cards, with news breaking that she is entering the Australian Open in January using her Special Ranking of 103.
Although she is entitled to take wild-cards into numerous events as a Grand Slam champion, this Special Ranking is not enough to gain her direct entry into the main draw, and she will find herself in the qualifying unless organisers decide to offer her an invitation.
She has accepted a wild-card to play at the Auckland Classic in the New Year, which will be her warm-up event leading into Melbourne.
A year ago Raducanu exited the tournament in tears after rolling her ankle during a 2nd-round match that was moved indoors due to wet weather, and she condemned the court for being very slippery after retiring against Slovakian Viktoria Kuzmova, although the organisers were adamant the surface was fit to play.
“Despite the fact she had to retire this year, she was really happy to come back,” Tournament Director Nicolas Lamperin told New Zealand media on Thursday.
Raducanu joins a field featuring reigning US Open champion Coco Gauff and former World No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who also is given a wild-card as she continues her tour come-back after a 3-year hiatus to start a family.
American Amanda Anisimova also receives a wild-card, and is set to return to action after pulling out of the tour in May, citing burnout and mental health concerns.
Raducanu made history at the 2021 US Open by winning the title as a qualifier, winning 10 matches on the trot without dropping a set in the process, and became a household name overnight as a result.
She reached a career high of No 10 in July, 2022, and the now 21-year-old was able to enter the main draw of every Grand Slam she has appeared in by virtue of her ranking, but she exited the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon in 2022 in the 2nd-round, while losing in her opener at the US Open when she attempted to defend her title.
In 2023, another 2nd-round exit in Melbourne saw her falling in the rankings and she then missed the next three Majors due to injury after undergoing surgery on her ankle and wrists earlier this year.
There are others also making use of their Special Ranking in Melbourne, including Naomi Osaka, Shelby Rogers, Ajla Tomljanovic, Jennifer Brady and Angelique Kerber.
While Raducanu has been training hard at the LTA’s National Tennis Centre for months, she has yet to name a coach having famously dismissed five thus far in her fledgling career, although according to the WTA website she is currently working with Sebastian Sachs.
Interestingly, her last coach, Dmitry Tursonov, recently parted ways with his 4th player in the space of 18 months with Veronika Kudermetova, the World No 19, the latest to decide his methods are not for her.
The Russian said he is ‘too direct’ as a coach and joins Belinda Bencic, Anett Kontaveit and Raducanu, as well as previously Aryna Sabalenka among those to have worked with and then ditched the coach.
“What happens is that he is too direct a person,” Kudermetova explained. “We players are very emotional, we have to be a little tactful, especially when you tell us what we should do, or when you don’t care at all what we want to do.”
After deciding not to renew his contract with Raducanu, Tursonov said: “Sooner or later, she’s going to sort it out. She loves tennis too much not to figure it out.
“It’s just a question of how long it will take her and how difficult the road will be. But I think she’s the person who’s willing to go a bumpy road.”
There is much at stake for Raducanu, whose profile in the sport and on social media is immense, with some 2.4 million followers on Instagram, but interest could quickly fade unless she starts to win matches and rise back up the WTA rankings again.
So far, she is doing well on the sponsorship side, and remains among the Top 5 Highest-Paid Female Athletes in the world despite her lack of on-court activity this year.
She was No 3 last year and, having only played 10 matches in 2023, comes in at No 4 having earned $16.2m this campaign, with $16m coming from endorsements.
Top 10 Highest-Paid Female Athletes 2023
- Coco Gauff, Tennis – $22.7m ($6.7m prize money and $16m endorsements)
- Iga Swiatek, Tennis – $21.9m ($9.9m prize money and $12m endorsements)
- Eileen Gu, Freestyle Skiing – $20m ($27k prize money/salary and $20m endorsements)
- Emma Raducanu, Tennis – $16.2m ($238k prize money and $16 endorsements)
- Naomi Osaka, Tennis – $15m ($0 prize money and $15m endorsements
- Aryna Sabalenka, Tennis – $12.2m ($8.2m prize money and $4m endorsements)
- Elena Rybakina, Tennis – $9.5m ($5.5m prize money and $4m endorsements)
- Jessica Pegula, Tennis – $9m ($6m prize money and $3m endorsements)
- Simone Biles, Gymnastics – $8.5m ($0 prize money and $8.5m endorsements)
- Nelly Korda, Golf – $7.9m ($1.4m prize money and $6.5m endorsements)
Eying the 2024 Paris Olympics, Raducanu made her Billie Jean King Cup debut in 2022 April, but has not played in the team competition since, and Anne Keothavong, Team GB Captain, has made it clear that ‘no one is guaranteed’ a spot on the team.
“I don’t think anyone can guarantee a spot on this team,” Keothavong said recently. “They [the current team] set the bar high for the others who want to be on this team, which is good.
“But everyone’s hungry and everyone wants to be part of that, so for me as captain, hopefully, we’ll be spoilt for choice.”
Earlier this year, Raducanu drew criticism when she opted to play in Stuttgart ahead of Britain’s tie against France, saying: “Because of my existing injuries, the best medical advice was to not switch surfaces at such short notice.
“So that’s what I’ve been told. Of course I would love to play the Billie Jean King Cup. It’s just this scenario is not the best for my body. I really need to look after myself and do what’s best for me on the match court.”
Shortly after, Raducanu took the decision to undergo the 3 surgeries in May which, she hopes, will save her on-court career in the longer run.
“It was difficult to train after the surgeries, so it was very sedentary in the beginning,” she admitted. “Through the whole period, I’ve been doing a lot off court, reading a lot and watching some tennis. Mentally, I feel like I’m in a better place to compete now than I ever have been before since the US Open.
“I’m hoping to get back on board for next season,” Raducanu said on Amazon Prime recently. “I know it’s going to be difficult when you haven’t competed for a long time, like almost a year. It’s going to probably take me some tournaments to get up to speed.”
As the 2024 season approaches, Raducanu is now in Hong Kong increasing the intensity of her practice sessions and, once again, is dealing with blisters.
She posted an image of her calloused palm on her Instagram stories past 10 pm local time in Hong Kong with the caption: “Welcome back.”
The 21-year-old was in the region to honour her sponsor’s work as a global brand ambassador of HSBC – one of the largest banks in the world.
“When I get asked how I balance everything the answer is a 22:30 wrap on court after a productive day with @hsbc_hk.”
HSBC has partnered with Raducanu to work on sports initiatives and financial opportunities for young people.
The former US Open champion participated in some marketing campaigns and shared a photo dump during her time there.
“I just really wanted to expand what I do off the court because, obviously, when you’re playing, you have little to no time to do anything,” she says. “So, it was nice to have some time to learn new skills and do things I’d never done or tried before. At the end of the day, I’m itching to get back on court.”
This week, Australian Open organisers confirmed the first 4 players to be handed wild-cards for next year’s major but Raducanu’s name was missing as Wozniacki, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2018, will make her first appearance at the season-opening Grand Slam in 4 years after making a come-back to the tour this year.
Wozniacki is joined by Australians Kimberly Birrell, aged 25, 21-year old Olivia Gadecki, and 18-year old Taylah Preston in the women’s draw.
It remains to be seen if Raducanu will get the nod when the next tranche of wild-cards are released so, in the meantime, she will focus on regaining her match-play fitness in Auckland.