Emma Raducanu: I may step down a level to recapture my form

Emma Raducanu stands with her hands on her hips
Emma Raducanu can see the benefits of playing on the second-tier ITF circuit - Robert Prange/Getty Images

Emma Raducanu says she is prepared to drop down a level in the search for more match experience, which could mean a visit to the second-tier ITF circuit.

After her three-set loss to China’s Yafan Wang on Thursday, Raducanu remains stranded just inside the world’s top 300 – which is comfortably too low to earn her direct entry into WTA events on her ranking alone.

She has already received a wild card invitation into the Abu Dhabi Open, which starts on Feb 5. From there, the question is whether Doha and Dubai – the next two big events in the Middle East – will also be keen to fast-track her into the draw.

If not, she could end up playing a humble $40,000 event at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton in the week after Abu Dhabi (Feb 12 onwards), or perhaps a $60,000 in Porto the week after (Feb 19 onwards).

The prize money for winning those events would respectively be £3,140 and £4,750 – a drop in the ocean for a woman who was ranked No 4 on the Forbes rich list for female athletes last year, with an estimated income of around £12 million. Her US Open triumph brought in around £1.8 million on its own.

“I really believe that the difference in level between the quote ‘lower-level tournaments’ and these tournaments is not that big,” said Raducanu in Melbourne. “Because you gain so many skills, you’re playing in these conditions. The wind here was a prime example. My opponent [Wang] played a lot of ITF and got a lot of matches under her belt, but the level really isn’t that different. So yeah, I would play whatever suits my schedule, whatever suits the plan.”

Yafan Wang celebrates
Raducanu believes experience on the ITF circuit helped Yafan Wang - Edgar Su/Reuters

After Dubai, the next big tournaments are the American duo of Indian Wells and Miami, known as the Sunshine Double, which occupy almost the entire month of March. Raducanu’s protected ranking of No 103, which she can use in eight more tournaments after her first deployment here at the Australian Open, should be good enough to earn her a spot in qualifying at those events. But she sounds like she is keen to get a decent run of matches first.

“I would love to compete beforehand,” said Raducanu, when asked about the Sunshine Double. “I think now going back, training a little bit, tidy some things up. Then it depends on the ranking and wild-card situation.”

And what about the team around her? Nick Cavaday, the childhood coach whom she first worked with as a six-year-old at Bromley Tennis Academy, is to continue for the immediate future. Raducanu said: “The work we’re doing has been paying off, because to get me to this level from nothing, after only six weeks, was good.”

Emma Raducanu trains with Nick Cavaday
Raducanu is to stick with coach Nick Cavaday (left) for the time being - James D. Morgan/Getty Images

The next question is whether she should engage a travelling fitness trainer, especially in view of the way she has been fading in deciding sets. Three of her four matches on this trip to Australia and New Zealand have been three-setters, and in two of them she was seriously undermined by a loss of physical condition. Even when she beat Elena-Gabriela Ruse in Auckland, she came under pressure from a surging opponent and only managed to save herself via some clutch serving at the death.

Raducanu sounded open to this idea. “I worked with a really good trainer back in London,” she said. “But he’s with the Lawn Tennis Association, so I don’t know if he travels too much. I think that certain weeks sporadically travelling with a fitness coach is a great idea. For example, when the tournaments are two-week events [which applies to both Indian Wells and Miami]. If you get knocked out early, it’s a prime opportunity to do a 10-day little block. So I think it’s something to be looked at. But in the immediate future. I think it’s just getting more time in practice for tidying up any bugs.”

Bugs were certainly an issue for Raducanu against Wang. She found herself retching into a towel during the third set, after contracting what she suggested was some kind of gastric virus. And then there was the forehand glitch – more the sort of thing she was referring to above – which saw her air-mail perhaps a dozen balls well over the baseline.

Emma Raducanu forehands a ball long
Raducanu's forehand let her down against Wang - Robert Prange/Getty Images

Thursday night still delivered a decent showing, however, against an opponent who plays in a similar style to Raducanu herself. And the whole experience of being back on 1573 Arena – the same court where she won her first-round match last year – felt highly motivational.

“It’s pretty surreal,” she said of the warm support she received from the fans, who included many British expats. “I really missed that feeling. Wow, I think being away and coming back, I was really taken aback and surprised by how much support I was getting. So I was really taking it in but not in like a farewell kind of way. I was more like ‘Well, I just want to keep going and keep seeing them all’.”

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