The historic nature of Emma Raducanu’s New York triumph leaves her – and the team around her – in a happy yet bewildering position. How to plan the next move when there are no real precedents?
Tennis’s breakthrough star is so new to the tour that she has yet to win a match at a regular WTA tournament. But now, with a world ranking of No 23, she can pick and choose her events.
At the moment, Raducanu is entered into qualifying for the Chicago WTA 500 event which starts on Sept 27, but her team say that she will review her schedule in the coming days. The alternative would be to take a lengthy breather, try to get her head around the insanity of the past three weeks, and not even think about reappearing in her match kit until January.
During a fascinating debate on the next phase of Raducanu’s career, the 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli spoke about this difficult dilemma, suggesting that only Raducanu herself will be able to judge whether to stick or twist in the 2021 season.
“Maybe she feels like this is just a small stop in her history path and she has to go and win a lot more things,” Bartoli told BBC Radio Five Live. “And therefore she should play Indian Wells [the big Californian event that was postponed from its regular slot in early March until Oct 4 because of Covid].
“Or she could feel that she needs a little bit of a break just to calm down from everything and all the buzz and all the fuss and all of that,” Bartoli added. “And she needs just to take it off until the end of the year and get ready for the Australian Open.”
In the same interview, Bartoli gave a glimpse into the discombobulating effect of her own life-changing grand-slam victory – which had come at the far riper age of 28. “Your fame is quite small and then all of a sudden everyone wants a piece of you,” she said. “You don’t even own your own life anymore and you feel like you’re part of a whole circus that wants to see you, wants to know what you’re doing. You start to have paparazzi going around your home, wanting to know with whom you’re going out and who you’re having dinner with.
“I know how the paparazzi and those kind of press can be in the UK, and how overwhelming it can be. So it’s just about trying to find the balance and trying to find a team around you to push that aside and protect you.”
Raducanu’s scheduling dilemma was also addressed by Laura Robson, the former Wimbledon junior champion who would later reach the second week of the US Open as an 18-year-old. “It depends how she feels,” Robson told the BBC. “I am sure she wants to spend a bit of time at home and maybe chill out on the sofa for a couple of weeks with her parents, but I think if she is planning to play Chicago and Indian Wells then it makes sense to get there early and just take the whole team out and practice in peace.
“Even trying to hit at her local club is just not going to be possible anymore,” Robson added. “You probably can’t work on things in the same way if there is going to be cameras there and every single member of the club watching every single thing that you do. It might be an idea [to work more in the USA].”
For one final insight, we can turn to Pat Cash, who commentated on the women’s final for the BBC. Cash, like Bartoli, was a one-time slam champion, although his victory at Wimbledon in 1987 came much earlier in his career, when he was only 22.
Assessing Raducanu’s feats in New York, Cash compared them to Boris Becker winning Wimbledon at 17. “He almost came from nowhere but he had played a few grand slams. It’s as big as that if not bigger.”
His advice to this newly minted tennis celebrity was to enjoy the moment. “For myself, the first thing I said when I came in the locker-room after holding the trophy at Wimbledon was ‘let’s go and win the US Open’, and I don’t think that was a healthy thing,” said Cash. “The people there with me looked at me with a really weird look. It was like ‘Wait a minute, you’ve just won the greatest trophy of all time in tennis. This is your dream, right? Why don’t you just relax and enjoy it?’ They literally looked at me like I came from outer space. I think that was a real mental flaw with me that I was always looking ahead.”