No matter how monumental a victory is or how much one run can change a life, one of the great challenges in tennis is what follows away from the spotlight as a player looks to build a career to last.
In the wake of her breakthrough Wimbledon, this has been the challenge before Emma Raducanu as she has spent the past few weeks travelling around the United States and playing to crowds a fraction of No 1 Court’s capacity. So far, she has thrived.
“I’ve honestly loved it,” says Raducanu in a Zoom roundtable interview in New York. “I think that this has been the longest trip I’ve ever done. In total it might be like five weeks at the end so it’s definitely a new thing for me, and it’s probably gonna be my life from now on and I’m honestly just taking every week as it comes. The trip has just flown by because we’ve just been focusing on the craft every single day and taking care.”
After arriving at Wimbledon as a 338-ranked wildcard, the 18-year-old’s fourth round run and subsequent rise to No 184 both allowed her to enter bigger tournaments on her ranking and led to wildcard opportunities due to her newfound prominence. She has swiftly taken advantage.
In recent weeks she has reached the quarter-final of the $100k ITF event in Landisville, Pennsylvania and then last week she contested – although lost – her first WTA $125k final in Chicago as a wildcard, rising into the top 150 for the first time in her career.
This period also marked the end of a notable chapter in Raducanu’s life. During her time in Landisville, she received her A level results, which included an A* in maths and an A in economics. After competing sparingly due to her studies, she has now decided to focus only on her tennis career.
Her Wimbledon experience, a startling run to the second week followed by a blunt, dramatic end after retiring against Ajla Tomjlanovic due to breathing difficulties, provided enough lessons in itself. Looking back, Raducanu says that the experience underlined her physical shortcomings compared to the experienced adults across the tour and she has endeavoured to address them.
“It was something completely new to me,” says Raducanu. “But the other girls had just been doing it week in, week out for the last couple years or 10 years. I think that’s definitely a big gap in my game and since then I’ve just been working on just trying to physically get stronger, be able to last more and have better endurance.”
Mental endurance will also be part of the equation for any future success, particularly given the instant celebrity she gained. Raducanu now has over 400,000 followers on Instagram and the hype has not abated.
Her face is emblazoned across Amazon Prime Video’s US Open advertisement banner even though she is only in the qualifying draw and she will end her year as a headliner at the ATP Champions event at the Royal Albert Hall. Raducanu says, however, that she feels her life is the same as before. She took five days off after Wimbledon and since then she has only looked forward.
“When you’re on the road you zone out and it’s really just about preparing for your next match so in a way I don’t feel like any difference,” she says. “Obviously extremely grateful for the fans that are following me and people following me. I don’t think I’m that interesting, but it’s really nice to have that many people behind me.”
That next match will be as the 31st seed against Bibiane Schoofs of the Netherlands in US Open qualifying , where she will attempt to win the three matches required to reach the main draw. She comes with a new coach, Andrew Richardson, after deciding to part ways with Nigel Sears, who worked with her at Wimbledon. Such is her inexperience, she has even had to ask for directions to reach the canteen at Flushing Meadows.
There will be plenty of compatriots to help along the way. Raducanu is joined in the qualifying draw by Harriet Dart, seeded 32nd, Katie Boulter, Jodie Burrage, Francesca Jones and Samantha Murray Sharan. In the men’s draw, Liam Broady starts as the 25th seed.