Emma Raducanu has gone from Sunderland’s indoor tennis centre to becoming the darling of Wimbledon on her debut with the quarter-finals now in sight… the 18-year-old is a star in the making and ‘is determined to excel in EVERYTHING she does’
- Emma Raducanu made the final of a low-key Sunderland event in February 2020
- The teenager then resorted to playing unofficial tournaments as Covid took hold
- Unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic stands between her and the last eight of Wimbledon
- Raducanu’s mother and father moved from Toronto to London when she was two
- After settling on tennis, the 18-year-old has had a number of coaches recently
- Nigel Sears is the latest and he pushed for Raducanu to get a wildcard for SW19
It was February last year and Emma Raducanu was sitting, in glorious anonymity, in the cafe of a suburban indoor tennis centre in Sunderland.
Happy to make conversation, the socially accomplished teenager talked of her A-levels, and joined in as the four of us round the table discussed the worrying developments around a new virus that was arriving in Europe.
On the court she went on to make the final of a modest £16,000 tournament, another decent week suggesting early promise. And that — until last month — was that as far her playing world-ranking tournaments was concerned.
Emma Raducanu has shot to stardom after battling away in unofficial tournaments in the UK
The 18-year-old now faces unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic for a place in Wimbledon’s last eight
With the international calendar of low-level events decimated, Raducanu chose to play just the surviving, unofficial domestic tournaments on offer, which do not have the precious currency of global points. Even in the UK she played sparingly, focusing largely on exams.
That long hiatus in her fledgling career is why she has hit with Wimbledon like a bolt from the blue in the past week, making Monday’s fourth round proper.
She has previously played the odd minor pro tournament in locations as disparate as Sunderland, the Wirral and Tel Aviv.
She won the latter aged 15, the kind of achievement in tennis which make the cognoscenti file the name away.
Yet, incredibly, this is her second appearance on what constitutes the main women’s tour.
It is not like she ripped up the junior circuit, although she did make the quarter finals of the 2018 Wimbledon and US Open junior events.
This week, however, has not happened by accident.
Having tried diverse activities such as ballet and go-karting, Raducanu began playing seriously at the Bromley Tennis Centre as a child.
Her parents, Ian and Renee, had relocated to south-east London from Toronto when she was two years old.
Raducanu is competing at her first main women’s tour event and has three wins under her belt
They have jobs in the financial industry, with her mother working in the foreign exchange business.
An only child, she quickly showed an aptitude not just for tennis, but compartmentalising her life.
Lawn Tennis Association coach Matt James, who has been working with her at SW19 this week alongside Nigel Sears, also trained her as a 15-year-old while she was simultaneously applying herself to studying.
‘Obviously she’s a really bright girl and you can tell she’s determined to excel in everything she does. It’s no surprise that she’s really good academically,’ he says.
‘When we were at Bromley, we were playing tennis in between her school sessions, whereas a lot of players her level would have stopped the education after GCSEs. But she’s really gritty and determined to do both very well, so credit to her.’
One facet of Raducanu’s development is that she has had a high number of coaches, with Kent-based Kiwi Clint Harris another.
Raducanu’s early career has been punctuated by several changes of coach over the years
In fact, within British tennis when her name came up you might hear the fear expressed that there were too many voices involved.
By early last year she was working with Belgium’s Philip de Haes, whose clients have included Russian tour player Daria Kasatkina.
He was seeking to make adjustments to the Raducanu forehand grip, which was considered her weaker side.
Then the pandemic struck, and with travel difficult and her father reluctant for his daughter to travel, that partnership came to an end.
As practice became more feasible last summer British player, coach and TV commentator Mark Petchey stepped into the breach, although he made it clear that he could not commit full-time to the task due to other duties.
Petchey liked what he saw, but in common with de Haes saw technical improvements were needed.
Mark Petchey (left) offered to coach Raducanu on a part-basis as Covid-19 restrictions eased
Interestingly, he also consulted with renowned Spanish coach Esteban Carril, the man credited with transforming Jo Konta from international also-ran to Grand Slam semi-finalist.
‘We continued to do some work on the forehand grip and also the serve,’ Petchey told Sportsmail.
‘There was never a bad session with her, even when it had to be early in the morning to fit in with my commentary work.
‘It can be difficult when you are trying to make changes with a player, but it was notable that even in those moments she still had the courage to play in the right way because she knew it had to be done.’
There were also experiments with her racket, and the trial of switching from a Wilson to Yonex.
‘In the end we went back to the Wilson, but changed to one that was a quarter of an inch longer.
Petchey and Esteban Carril made adjustments to Raducanu’s forehand grip and her serve
‘We also added a little bit of weight to the frame to help give the forehand a little more punch.’
As with most successful tennis players, there is usually one of the parents directing the traffic, and in Raducanu’s case it is Ian, who Petchey says was often present at training sessions.
‘I found him good to deal with,’ says the former Davis Cup player. ‘His outlook on tennis is wide ranging and he is happy to think outside the box.
‘As a coach he challenges you – his view is that the coach does not necessarily know everything.
‘I thought he had a good handle on what the particular needs of his daughter were. One tournament doesn’t make a career, but I think Emma is only going to get better.
‘I would also say that she herself is great to deal with. She’s very well-liked, polite and friendly, up there with the best in the game I’ve come across as a person.’
New coach Nigel Sears pushed for Raducanu to get a wildcard – and the move has paid off
Sears, coach and Andy Murray’s father-in-law, has been a long-term consultant and began working full-time with Raducanu in April.
He will oversee preparations for the match against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, the world No 75.
Sears was among those pushing Wimbledon hard to give her a main draw wildcard. That had been denied her after she lost in the first round of Nottingham’s Viking Open to fellow Brit Harriet Dart in early last month, in her first ranking event since Sunderland.
He and others reported that, although she surprisingly froze in that one match, she was smashing all opposition in competitive practice sets.
Sears and James, who is acting as a hitting partner, will be in the player support box on Monday. It is one of the peculiarities of this year’s Wimbledon that her parents will have to sit in the stands among the crowd to watch, as they are not in the official player and coach bubble.
Only when this adventure, little foreseen by anyone eight days ago, comes to an end can there be a family reunion.
Raducanu’s opponent aiming for best major display
Emma Raducanu’s opponent on Monday was involved in one of Wimbledon’s most unsavoury moments so far on Saturday.
Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic and her third-round opponent Jelena Ostapenko ended up hurling accusations at one another after the latter took an 11-minute medical timeout in the final set.
Tomljanovic, 27, born in Croatia but a naturalised Aussie after spending her teenage years in Florida, is the girlfriend of Italian men’s star Matteo Berrettini and an ex of Nick Kyrgios.
She has had a solid top-100 career which peaked at No 39 two years ago, but had not made it past the second round at SW19 in five previous attempts.
Tomljanovic was involved in a heated exchange with Jelena Ostapenko in her previous match
This is her equal-best showing at a Grand Slam and friends say her relationship with Berrettini has been good for her tennis.
Tomljanovic has a decent all-round game but she is not the toughest player you could face in a last-16 match.
Of her opponent, she said: ‘Emma seems like a solid baseliner with a big game. How great is it to make round four in your home Slam at 18? It’s unbelievable.’
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