Emma Raducanu reflects on ‘pretty surreal’ year before Nottingham return | Tennis

There was no pre-tournament press conference for Emma Raducanu in Nottingham last summer, no posse of photographers and autograph hunters simply to watch her practise, and no hint of what was to follow, as her first match as a professional ended in a straight-sets defeat.

Just 12 months later, Raducanu returned to where it all began on Monday as the reigning US Open champion and Sports Personality of the Year, a brand ambassador for blue-chip firms including Porsche and Tiffany, and with, by one estimate, £12m already banked in prize money and sponsorships.

It has been, by any measure, a dizzying rise to household-name status, and one that has largely unfolded elsewhere. Raducanu’s opening match in the Rothesay Open on Tuesday will be her first in Britain since an audience of millions watched her head to the locker room in the second set of her fourth-round match at Wimbledon last year, before retiring due to breathing difficulties and dizziness.

It will also be a return to grass after her second-round exit from the French Open on the clay at Roland Garros last month. “This was my first tournament,” Raducanu said here on Monday, “and to come back 12 months later, knowing what happened, it’s pretty surreal.

“The grass season is going to be a lot of fun. I love the grass, but there are so many good players in the draw and it’s dependent on so many things; the form on the day, how you match up against your opponent. Results, at this point, I kind of stop thinking about it, because there is no use in doing that. If you’re doing the right things, then it will follow.”

Raducanu’s record since becoming the first qualifier to win a grand slam title in the Open era is 10 wins and 13 defeats, and she has parted company with three coaches since her US Open victory, which she completed without dropping a set in a total of 10 matches.

Emma Raducanu after winning the US Open in September 2021
Emma Raducanu wins the US Open in September as a qualifier. Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA

A statement after Torben Beltz became the third departure from her team in seven months in April suggested that Raducanu plans to “transition to a new training model”. She was not inclined to elaborate further on Monday on what exactly that might mean.

“I’m just training how I have been the last few months,” she said. “I’ve got someone to practise with and even if I had a revolutionary training model, I don’t need to share how I train, because that’s my business, why would I tell my opponents how I train?”

As she acknowledges, however, achieving the ambition of a lifetime when you are still in your teens creates issues of its own. “I don’t think anyone would say, ‘I wish I didn’t win a grand slam at 18’ … That’s what I set out to do, I wanted to win a grand slam, and I did that.

“For it to happen very soon definitely comes with a lot of challenges. But I think managing, learning and growing through those adversities that I’ve faced – I’d much rather have that and learn from all those experiences, keep building and keep progressing. I’m sort of doing the work from that, because I did it a bit backwards.”

Raducanu’s setbacks have included a bout of Covid in December, a blister which forced her to hit one-handed backhand slices in her second-round defeat at the Australian Open and more problems with blisters, this time on her foot, in April.

But with only three weeks to go before the first afternoon at Wimbledon, an adversity-free tournament in Nottingham, where she is seeded second behind the world No 3, Maria Sakkari, would set her up ideally for the return to SW19. It is there Raducanu will attempt to become the first British woman to win the singles title since Virginia Wade, in the silver jubilee summer of 1977. The attention, and expectation, will be immense.

“It hasn’t started yet, I don’t really know how it is going to be and it’s obviously going to be a new experience and feeling for me,” Raducanu said. “But I just think it’s going to be really important to maintain a good circle around me, be chipping away at what I’m doing and not get sidetracked or distracted. I think that’s something that I’m quite good at.”

Source link