Emma Raducanu backs 'role model' Lewis Hamilton for SPOTY after straight-sets homecoming win

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Emma Raducanu celebrates her win over good friend Elena-Gabriela Ruse at the Royal Albert Hall - PA
Emma Raducanu celebrates her win over good friend Elena-Gabriela Ruse at the Royal Albert Hall - PA
  • Home hero beats good friend Elena-Gabriela Ruse in straight sets

  • Raducanu playing on home soil for first time since fourth round exit at Wimbledon and US Open win

  • Gulf in class evident as world No 19 sees off challenge of world No 85

Emma Raducanu has been taking advice from her “role model” Lewis Hamilton as she continues to adjust to her new life in the public eye - and has even backed the Formula One world champion to win next month’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Raducanu is the overwhelming favourite to win the biggest gong in sport after a fairytale year which included a dream run at Wimbledon before her sensational victory at the US Open, where she came through qualifying.

On Sunday at the Royal Albert Hall, the 19-year-old played her first match in the UK since that historic win, where she cruised to a straight-sets victory over Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse in a light-hearted exhibition match.

Afterwards, Raducanu, a huge motorsport fan, revealed she had crossed paths with Hamilton at September’s Met Gala in New York, where he had offered her guidance on how to cope with being in the limelight. “He’s just been really cool in helping me,” said Raducanu. “He said: ‘Be patient. You’ve just got to ride the wave, it’s all good, don’t worry.’ He gave good reassurance. So yeah, he’s a really cool guy.’”

Despite being the bookies' favourite to win the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year on December 19, it was already looking highly unlikely that Raducanu would attend the coveted awards in person due to a scheduling clash. She is next in action at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, which runs from December 16-18 and has now confirmed she will be staying out in the Middle East over the Christmas period, before flying directly to January’s Australian Open.

Britain's Emma Raducanu and Romania's Elena-Gabriela Ruse during their match  - REUTERS
Britain's Emma Raducanu and Romania's Elena-Gabriela Ruse during their match - REUTERS

Asked if she had already prepared her winners' speech for SPOTY, Raducanu smiled and replied: "No, definitely not. I am rooting for Lewis. He has been such a good role model for me, in terms of just helping me through these next stages. He is a really cool person. I don't even think about Sports Personality. For me it's just something so far from the realms of possibility.”

Since returning from her first overseas holiday in seven years last week, Raducanu has hit the ground running with a gruelling pre-season training block, spending up to five hours at a time working exclusively on her fitness, with little court time in between. She subsequently admitted to having pre-match nerves before her knockabout with Ruse as she gears up for her first full season on the WTA tour as a professional.

“If you ask my trainer - I’ll start the day on a high and then by the fourth hour I’m like, ‘I’m really feeling it.’ For me, I know that gives me confidence that I’m putting the work in and I feel I can take that as a strength and an advantage,” said Raducanu. “Although the off season is quite short, realistically I’m not sure how I can improve in four weeks, but I feel like playing a full schedule next year, I’ll improve that way as well because just playing matches and getting match fitness, that’s the only real way that it kind of happens.”

In the long term, stepping out at London’s iconic auditorium could prove a valuable box-ticking exercise for Raducanu. Her highly anticipated return on British soil was a world away from the last time she played in the UK, when she was forced to retire from breathing difficulties in her fourth-round match against Ajla Tomljanovic at Wimbledon last July.

It also provided a glimpse of the frenzied attention the teenager can expect when she next returns to the UK next year, by which time she hopes to have tweaked areas of her game with Torben Beltz, the new coach she recruited earlier this month. She is yet to formally start practice sessions with the “super positive” German, who has a winning pedigree at Wimbledon after masterminding Angelique Kerber’s dream tournament there in 2016.

Raducanu celebrates with fans after her straight sets win at the iconic London venue - REUTERS
Raducanu celebrates with fans after her straight sets win at the iconic London venue - REUTERS

It is a track record that is only likely to fuel the hype around Raducanu, who has climbed an astonishing 345 rankings this year to finish as the world No 19, when she returns to the All England Club in 2022. “Pressure’s a privilege,” said Raducanu. “I quite like it. I thrive on the adrenaline I hope. I don’t really think about other people’s opinions or expectations. The only ones I have are those of myself to improve and get better.”

So how would she sum up her stellar 2021? “As a journey,” she said. “That’s the biggest word. If you were to draw a road or a journey the trajectory in where it went would just not make sense. I’m so grateful and actually proud of myself. That’s why I think that holiday was so good for me because I could take a step back and really appreciate how far I’ve come.”

Raducanu beats Ruse 6-3, 7-6 - as it happened

02:22 PM

Emma Raducanu speaks...

Having said he doesn't want to interview Ruse - and making Raducanu slightly awkward in the process - Andrew Castle speaks to Raducanu.

On playing back in Britain...

"It was amazing to play at home, it was an incredible atmosphere, I really enjoyed it. I've been doing a bit of fitness not so much tennis so I was nervous coming out here today."

On lesson she's learned over the past year...

"To keep plugging away then anything can happen."

On what comes next...

"I am heading out to the Middle East to finish pre-season then out to the Australian Open."

On some of the highlights of the year...

"Playing here at Wimbledon in the third round was the turning point - I felt it I could be competitive and that was the turning point."

On her aims for 2022...

"Just to keep improving and to be able to look back at the end of the year and say I made gains. It will take a lot of patience - that is the biggest goal. [I want to] build robustness physically, it's my first full year on tour, so the aim is to get better."

02:09 PM

The players are now throwing signed balls into the crowd

Andrew Castle is doing his mildly funny host schtick, some say it can grate, I won't comment.

Hopefully we'll get an interview with Raducanu in the next few minutes...

02:05 PM

RADUCANU WINS 6-3, 7-6

Ruse has played some lovely stuff this set and gets to a 3-2 lead thanks, in part, to a wonderful forehand crosscourt winner on the run. The home hero then wins the following four points - the last of which was down to some fine anticipation and a sliced forehand winner - and she serves out the match to win in straight sets.

01:58 PM

Raducanu 6-3, 6-6 Ruse - tie-break time

Ruse is targeting the Raducanu forehand and it's a ploy that's paying dividends this game as she races to a 0-30 lead. Another drop shot winner earns the Romanian two break points and a backhand into the net from the Briton means this set will go to a tie-break.

01:54 PM

Raducanu* 6-3, 6-5 Ruse (*denotes next server)

Raducanu has two break points - thanks mostly to her dependable sliced backhand. The world No.19 makes no mistake and will have a chance to again serve for the match.

01:51 PM

Raducanu 6-3, 5-5 Ruse* (*denotes next server)

Not for the first time Ruse plays a lovely, drop shot winner. That gets it to 30-30 and Ruse then earns a break point forcing the play coming into the net. Then she hands her racquet to a ball girl who misses the ball - they play the point again, this time with Ruse holding the racquet - and Raducanu is broken.

01:47 PM

Raducanu* 6-3, 5-4 Ruse (*denotes next server)

That's a good hold from Ruse - Raducanu will now serve for the match.

Raducanu - REUTERS
Raducanu - REUTERS

01:42 PM

Raducanu 6-3, 5-3 Ruse* (denotes next server)

A bit of a scrappy game - a few unforced errors - also sees a great rally that ends with a Samprasesque backhand smash from Ruse. That gets it to deuce and Ruse comes in off the baseline to play a great forehand winner. That earns her a break point. Raducanu gets it back to deuce but another fine winner from Ruse - this one a backhand - earns another break point. But again the home hero saves it and from there Raducanu holds to make Ruse serve to stay in the match.

01:35 PM

Raducanu* 6-3, 4-3 Ruse (denotes next server)

Ruse is still battling out there - there have been fewer jokes made out on court over the past few games - and she gets to 40-30 up having been 15-30 down and under pressure. She then takes the game, turning defence into attack and forcing the home hero into a long forehand at the end of the longest rally of the match.

01:30 PM

Raducanu 6-3, 4-2 Ruse* (denotes next server)

Raducanu looks like she's in a hurry to get this match over with, more fine groundstrokes from the back of the court force Ruse into errors and a forehand winner means she holds to 15.

01:25 PM

Raducanu* 6-3, 3-2 Ruse (denotes next server)

Raducanu is a fine returner of serve, she gets the ball back in play so often and this game she puts the Ruse serve under pressure again and breaks to 15.

01:22 PM

Raducanu 6-3, 2-2 Ruse* (denotes next server)

Ruse comes into the net and plays a delightful, delicate crosscourt volley. That gives her an early 0-15 advantage. But from there Raducanu executes some fine groundstrokes, a crisp forehand winner down the line the pick of the bunch, to get to 40-15. The home hero holds to 30.

01:17 PM

Raducanu* 6-3, 1-2 Ruse (denotes next server)

In between the joking and joshing about and on-court chat some decent tennis is being played. Ruse displays some clean hitting of her own to race to a 40-0 lead. She eventually wins the game to 15.

01:14 PM

Raducanu 6-3, 1-1 Ruse* (denotes next server)

Raducanu takes that game in the blink of an eye to love. That's the first love hold of the match.

01:13 PM

Here's that winner from the ball boy

Yep, your eyes aren't deceiving you - the ball boy won a point off Raducanu.

01:11 PM

Raducanu* 6-3, 0-1 Ruse (denotes next server)

A feature of her US Open win was her clean striking of the ball - Raducanu is showing off that facet of her game here, another fine backhand winner down the line gets her to 30-30. The next point earns her a break point but Ruse matches her crisp hitting with a brilliant forehand crosscourt winner to get it to deuce. From there the Romanian takes the game to go up early in the second set.

01:03 PM

RADUCANU TAKES THE FIRST SET: Raducanu 6-3 Ruse

Raducanu is serving for the first set for the second time and this time makes no mistake holding serve to love.

That's the first set won 6-3.

01:01 PM

Raducanu* 5-3 Ruse (denotes next server)

After the tomfoolery (haven't used that Partridgesque word in a while..!) of the last game this one is more serious. Raducanu earns one set point that Ruse saves with an ace. Another huge serve gives the Romanian the advantage and from there she holds.

12:55 PM

Raducanu 5-2 Ruse* (denotes next server)

Huge hitting from Ruse - the second point a massive forehand winner - gets her to 0-30. Under pressure - in as much as you can feel pressure in an exhibition match - Raducanu double faults and Ruse has two break points. Ruse is trying a lot out there, such as coming up on the Raducanu serve AND giving her racquet to a ball boy, he makes contact with the ball off the Raducanu serve but it flies into the crowd. But they play the point again and the ball boy chips and charges and wins the point at the net! He earns Ruse the break! Did I say this was an exhibition match..?

12:49 PM

Raducanu* 5-1 Ruse (denotes next server)

A cheeky underarm serve doesn't catch Raducanu out and the pair exchange a couple of lob volleys which the Briton comes out on top of - it's that type of contest. The duo then put on a fine display of hitting and touch, both using the dimensions of the court before Raducanu takes the point with an elegant sliced backhand winner. The world No.19 then plays another backhand winner down the line to get it to deuce. From there the home hero then plays her third wonderful backhand winner of the game to get the double break.

12:41 PM

Raducanu 4-1 Ruse* (denotes next server)

Raducanu is using the sliced backhand a lot - it's a shot she is comfortable with, able to change the direction of the ball at will. The shot helps her get to 30-0. From there an unforced error from Ruse gets her two service points and a big first serve makes it 4-1. It's all very convivial and jolly out there at the moment - the crowd are lapping it up, not least because their new hero is dominating.

12:37 PM

Raducanu* 3-1 Ruse (denotes next server)

Raducanu is again putting pressure on the Ruse serve - 15-30 up. The Romanian gets it to 30-30 and again shows a great touch with a drop shot winner. Ruse takes the game to 30.

12:33 PM

What a venue

Royal Albert hall 
Royal Albert hall

12:33 PM

Raducanu 3-0 Ruse* (denotes next server)

There's a lot of friendly chat (or bantz as some in sport call it...) on the court. The pair are smiling every point, regardless of whether they won it or not, and it very much has the air of an exhibition. Raducanu tells Ruse she's going to attempt a forehand down the line winner - she does and it's just out. Ruse then shows some wonderful hand skills to play a delightful crosscourt forehand winner on the run. But Raducanu takes the game to 30.

12:29 PM

Raducanu* 2-0 Ruse (denotes next server)

Ruse has played in more grand slams than Raducanu and is no mug - she illustrates that with a lovely change up in the first point of this game, playing a drop shot and a lob for the point. Raducanu responds with fine forehand winner and at 30-30 the Briton looks comfortable, making Ruse do all the running. But great play from the Romanian - taking the ball early on the backhand for a fine winner - earns her service point. Raducanu, however, gets it to deuce and saves another game point with a brilliant backhand winner down the line. From there the Briton earns a break point after coming into the net and playing another backhand winner on the run. She makes no mistake and earns the early break.

12:20 PM

Raducanu 1-0 Ruse* (denotes next server)

Raducanu opens up with her favoured pattern - hitting a forehand down the line off her first serve. She's down 15-30 early on, however. But comes back after exchanging blows from the baseline and a backhand winner from the home favourite earns her the opening game.

12:17 PM

Ruse and Raducanu are chatting away

Think it's safe to say this will be a good-natured contest.

Raducanu will serve first.

12:11 PM

Raducanu and Ruse are out on court

And they're currently warming up.

The Royal Albert hall is beautiful, iconic and intimidating - the fans are almost on top of the court.

12:07 PM

Andrew Castle is hosting on BBC iPlayer

He's warming up the crowd with a reminder of Raducanu's six-month journey from A-Level student to US Open winner and global superstar. The fans are, obviously, lapping it up.

12:05 PM

This is the last year of Champions tennis

So it's fitting that Raducanu will help bring to a close tennis at the iconic venue, the Royal Albert Hall.

Royal Albert Hall  - ACTION IMAGES
Royal Albert Hall - ACTION IMAGES

11:58 AM

Anyone fancy some cherry liqueur?

Here's a good read from our very own Fiona Tomas on Emma Raducanu's UK homecoming. Ruse, her good friend, is bringing more than her racquet to the Royal Albert Hall...

"Raducanu and Ruse are close friends on the tour, having recently shared several practice sessions at the Transylvanian Open. In keeping with the celebratory theme of this semi-competitive event, world no.83 Ruse has packed more than just her racket for the occasion. “I asked Emma, 'What would you like me to bring to London?' She was like, 'I want some cozonac' - it’s a sweet bread we eat in Romania around Christmas - and visinata,” Ruse told Telegraph Sport. The latter is an alcoholic drink made from sour cherries. “It’s very light and very sweet, we’ll drink some after the match for sure!”

READ: Sweet bread and cherry liqueur – how Emma Raducanu will celebrate UK homecoming at Royal Albert Hall

11:51 AM

Raducanu overjoyed to be at the Royal Albert Hall

11:48 AM

A lot has happened since Raducanu last played on British soil

When Britain's new global star exited Wimbledon in the fourth round with breathing difficulties in June few, if anyone, would have predicted what was to follow.

In the immediate aftermath of that match she was accused of lacking mental strength by, among others, Piers Morgan. Following that nonsense she proved those big-mouth doubters so wrong in the best, most impressive way possible - by going on to win the US Open. It was as huge a shock in sport as there has been over the past few years and one that thrust Raducanu firmly into the spotlight.

Since, then, it's fair to say things haven't been easy for the Briton - losing early at Indian Wells and going out in the quarter-finals in Romania before a first round exit in Linz. But she is still inexperienced at the top level (it seems strange to write that about a grand slam winner) and is on a huge learning curve.

Today's exhibition match against her good friend Ruse offers her the chance to put on a display for the home fans who have been desperate to she her play in the flesh since that remarkable night at Flushing Meadows.

Raducanu
Raducanu

11:35 AM

Good morning!

Hello and welcome to what should be a special occasion at the Royal Albert Hall as Emma Raducanu plays her first match on home soil since winning the US Open in September.

Since her remarkable win in New York, Raducanu has been unsuccessful in three events and turned 19 earlier this month.

But with her season coming to an end, Raducanu will be able to get the adoration of British fans today when she faces Romanian Elena-Gabriela Ruse in an exhibition match.

Speaking ahead of the match, former British No 1 Annabel Croft said Raducanu's unpredcented rise means she has missed out on some important development steps.

"She’s going back to the beginning, doing it in reverse and going through her apprenticeship now," said Croft.

"It’s an extraordinary situation that most players she’s facing have three, four, maybe 10 years more experience than her.

"Now she’s going to have to go through all these matches, where she’s going to have to learn about different situations, which will take time. She’s so young but I think she’s intelligent enough to cope with it."

Fresh from her first holiday in seven years - Raducanu’s new coach, Torben Beltz, is not expected to be present for the event. The players’ competitive edge, however, will be. “We are really happy to play against each other,” said Ruse. “It’s funny, because Emma has told me, 'Gabby, take it easy on me - it’s just an exhibition match.'”

Having climbed an incredible 324 places in the WTA rankings to break inside the world’s top 20 this year, Raducanu’s homecoming - tickets for which sold out within a week - will provide a flavour of the hype and attention the star will receive during her first full season on tour next year.

“We signed Emma to play before the US Open - the fact she went on to win it was a huge shot in the arm for us,” said Paul McCann, the vice-president of tennis events at IMG, the agency which also manages Raducanu. “To have the US Open Champion and hottest property in women’s tennis come and play at our event is huge, we’re all incredibly excited about it.”