Emma Raducanu goes into the US Open Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows, New York, this week as the defending champion. Last year, she had an extraordinary run, battling through three rounds of qualifying and going on to win the title without losing a single set on the way.
At the start of Wimbledon last year, the Brit came into that tournament with a world ranking of 343. As a result of her US Open title, she is now ranked no 11 in the world.
However, Raducanu may be the holder of that US Slam, but she’s had a dismal time of it since. Chopping and changing coaches, a number of injuries and an apparent loss of confidence has meant she has had 14 wins and 15 losses this year. The signs don’t look good for the holder who has in excess of 2000 ranking points to defend. Her tally of 2717 was mostly accumulated from her maiden Grand Slam victory last year. If she loses in the first round next week to the highly-experienced French player, Alizé Cornet, she could plunge to 85. It would be a long way back to being in a seeded position at future Grand Slams and would mean a reliance on wild cards in the more minor tour events with smaller draws.
Other than the injuries and coach changes, Emma has also been gobbled up by the likes of Nike, Wilson, Dior, Evian, Porsche, Tiffany… The list goes on and on. It’s little wonder she’s been struggling to find focus on court with all the distractions off it.
In the words of Martina Navratilova: “Emma’s agents didn’t use the word ‘no’ enough. She’s done too much off court in terms of promotional activities, and it’s taken away from her game.”
Raducanu has earned approximately £18 million over the past year, the vast majority from all that off-court sponsorship. Everyone wanted a piece of her and maybe she couldn’t resist the dollar signs. It was a sadly predictable scenario.
It also appears that her father has been rather too involved – again, the dollar signs? He even suggested at one point that they might hire a different coach for each stroke which sounded positively Richard Williamsesque – the father of Serena and Venus Williams also had what one might politely call an unorthodox approach.
But Emma’s quick succession of coaches has surely had a detrimental effect. She split with three in a space of just nine months and had no-one to support her during the French Open.
She is currently working with the former top 20 player and highly experienced Dmitry Tursunov on a short trial basis. This is despite him stating back in November: “If someone from her team called me, I would tremble with fear because you don’t know when you’ll be fired.”
However, in the early rounds of the US Open warm-up tournament in Cincinnati, Raducanu appeared to be having some sort of renaissance. She destroyed Serena Williams in the first round, bageling her famous opponent in the second set and then went on to hammer another former world No 1, Victoria Azarenka, with a score of 6-0, 6-2 in round two.
Was she going to perform another New York-style miracle, taking everyone out in straight sets?
In the third round, however, she went out to the American, Jessica Pegula, in a rather lame exhibition. It was a disappointing step backwards and a worrying performance in the build-up to the biggie in New York.
But who knows what may happen? The balls in New York are light and fast and that suits her game, as will the adoring crowd, which she won over with her smiles and apparent lack of nerves last year.
One would imagine that she’d feel huge pressure coming into the event but her response to that question was: “Why is there any pressure? I’m still 19. It’s a joke. I won a Slam and no-one’s going to take that away from me. If anything, the pressure is on those who haven’t done that.”
Whatever happens this week, Emma Raducanu appears to have a mature approach to the situation and, as she says, she is just 19 years old. There is plenty of time ahead for her to nab a few more Slams, whether or not she successfully defends her title this week at Flushing Meadows.