By Hanya El Ghetany
Emma Raducanu, the British marvel, stunned the world in her first U.S. Open run. She won the championship, defeating Leylah Fernandez in the final without dropping a set and breaking many records with her first grand slam win – at just 18 years old.
Emma became the youngest player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament since 2004. She is the first singles qualifier in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam championship. She is the first woman to win the U.S. Open without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014. She is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles championship since 1977 and the first British Grand Slam singles champion since Andy Murray in 2016, both at Wimbledon.
Emma’s rise to fame began ahead of its time. The British public and royalty praised the U.S. Open champion, starting with the queen, who congratulated Raducanu on her victory in a public letter, calling her victory a “remarkable achievement” and complimenting her “hard work and dedication.” The Cambridges followed suit, and the wave of adoration continued with stars in different industries like Gary Lineker, Marcus Rashford, Ant and Dec, The Spice Girls, Harry Kane, and Piers Morgan, but that’s a different story for a different article. Following her success, Raducanu became a brand ambassador for LVMH brands, Tiffany &Co., Evian, British Airways, and Vodafone. In March 2022 she became a brand ambassador for Porsche. She was also sponsored by Nike and Wilson.
Raducanu jumped 332 places in the rankings because of her U.S. Open victory.
It was only the second grand slam event of her career
It’s important to realise that Emma’s run in the U.S. Open was not her first full tour. In June that same year, she made her Grand Slam debut in Wimbledon. She reached the fourth round with a wildcard entrance despite being ranked outside the top 300. After encountering breathing difficulties in the second set of her fourth-round match against Ajla Tomljanovic, she retired. Between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, Emma changed coaches.
Since her success in Flushing Meadows, Raducanu has had to deal with various coach changes and injuries. Raducanu played at Indian Wells in October 2021, accepting a wildcard place in the main draw. She entered the tournament coach-less. She lost in straight sets in her first match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich. She played two smaller tournaments before finishing the 2021 season at a career high of world No. 19.
That’s it, that was her year.
Considering that it was her first time playing major events and that she changed coaches in between and after and still reached the fourth round in one and won the other, I think it was a pretty historic run.
The problem started here.
Fans of Emma, (or might I say Britain?) expected to see Emma make more runs with the same success she had in the U.S. Open and that’s an unrealistic expectation. It’s great that you want to see your country excel in every sport and I salute that, but it’s also important to understand the sport before putting such goals and pressure on players. Had she not won the championship or even reached the final, I expect the buzz around her would have been far less. She did, however, win. Not because she was lucky, but because she was simply the best. Afterwards, she had to deal with the pressure from the media and the fans who wanted her to win every tournament in 2022. Despite it being her first full year on tour, despite her still figuring herself out and deciding on a permanent coach and despite her still exploring the mental and physical challenges the tennis tour imposes on players. Emma herself did not put the same pressure and expectation fans had on herself, saying “This year is my first full season on the tour, all I want to do is get through it in one piece, and that is now my new goal. Just to get through it and survive in whatever way or capacity and if that means losing first round every week I don’t really care. It’s just to survive every single week trying to be injury free”
Leylah Fernandez’s run has also been amazing. She made her grand slam debut in 2020 at the Australian Open. She lost in the first round. Fernandez then advanced to the third round of the French Open in May. She then reached the final in the 2021 U.S. Open. Fernandez and Raducanu’s performances have been quite similar before their U.S. Open successes. Except Emma gets more heat and expectations for winning the championship despite Fernandez being considered an underdog and despite Fernandez beating Osaka, Kerber, Sabalenka, and Svitolina to reach the final.
Putting things into perspective and comparing her career to other grand slam champions helps Raducanu’s case. Sharapova played her first full season in 2003. She made her debuts at the Australian Open and the French Open, however neither event saw her win a match. She was given a wildcard to Wimbledon and advanced to the fourth round. The next year, in 2004, she won her first grand slam. Serena Williams began her professional career in 1998 and won her first grand slam the following year at the US Open in 1999. Which kind of brings me back to a sentence I used above: “Emma’s rise to fame began ahead of its time”.
If we look at the only “big” tournament she played twice, Indian Wells, Raducanu’s 2021 run saw her lose in the first round. Her 2022 run saw her advance to the third round. She defeated former world No. 4 Caroline Garcia in the second round for her first win at the event. She was defeated in the third round by Petra Martić in three sets. By numbers, her performance in Indian Wells improved from the year before.
Except for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, the rest of the season for Emma this year will still be her figuring out each tournament with the challenges each city and court possesses. It’s important for fans to realise that. That includes her runs in Australia and Miami. In Australia, Raducanu was set to start the season at the Melbourne Summer Set, but withdrew, citing her recent recovery from COVID-19. She began the season at the Sydney International and lost to Elena Rybakina 6-0, 6-1 in the first round. She made her Australian Open debut and lost in the second round. She then entered the Miami Open where She lost to Kateřina Siniaková in three sets. That was one match in this season where we could pinpoint things that Emma needs to work out on to improve her performance. Siniaková fought like a gladiator and Emma needed to match that spirit. She didn’t. She was announced on the British team for the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers. The matches will mark her first time playing in the competition as well as her first match of the season on clay. Following this, her clay season is set to continue with a debut at the Stuttgart Open in April.
Emma is 19. She is currently taking part in her first full year of tournaments, having already won a major and climbed to 12th in the world. People should check their expectations and allow her to breathe while she realises her strengths and works on her weaknesses and hopefully impresses us in the near future.