Emma Raducanu started 2021 wondering when she’d be able to compete again – COVID had put world tennis on hold.
At 345 in the world the Kent A-level student was just another 18-year-old prospect, relatively unknown outside British tennis circles.
No one could have predicted the fairytale turn her life was about to take.
New star of British tennis
“Wimbledon was the first moment I was being competitive on a global scale,” she says.
“Obviously there was so much excitement going on and adrenaline I’d never felt before, because it was the first time.
“I was so proud and happy being at home playing in front of [my] home crowd, it was such a special feeling especially out there on Court 1.
“The biggest court I’ve ever played on so I was really nervous, but I absolutely loved it once I got out there.”
Having reached the last 16 at the championships as a wildcard, Raducanu left the All England Club as a new star of British tennis, who perhaps had to build up a bit more stamina to compete at the top level.
She couldn’t finish her final match because of breathing difficulties but it was her first Grand Slam appearance and she was forgiven for running out of gas.
Overcoming obstacles at US Open
Her expectations then of the US Open which followed were quite modest – never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d actually win it.
“I arrived in New York just hoping to get through qualifying maybe,” she says.
“I was pretty tired. I just had the most amazing time and I think the key to that was I just focused on the day.”
“The time flew by. It went so fast by the end of it I was like, ‘I don’t wanna leave yet, I wanna stay’.
“And it was getting to the latter stages of the tournament and I was thinking, ‘But what if? You’re here so why not?’ But no one made a big deal of it.”
Raducanu says she wasn’t at all superstitious until her run at the US Open.
In trying to keep everything the same every day she couldn’t bring herself to change any of her routine.
“It wasn’t until maybe the last week when I thought, okay, I was having poke for dinner every single night for three weeks, because I didn’t want to take any chances,” she says.
“The best memories I have of New York is the amount of fun I had out there.
“I definitely felt I faced my own sort of obstacles and the way I overcame those.
“For example, the first time I stepped out onto Ashe (Arthur Ashe court) I was quite nervous and didn’t realise until I started and got off to a slow start and then the way I overcame that – by the end I was completely thriving out there in front of so many people.”
Developing a thick skin
The excitement and hype around her surprise Grand Slam victory led to big new sponsorship deals with Dior, Tiffany and Evian plus the inevitable criticism when things didn’t go quite so well afterwards.
England rugby coach Eddie Jones suggested her form had suffered because of off-court distractions and subsequently wrote her a letter to clarify his words.
But the 19-year-old is already developing a thick skin.
“I feel like people are gonna have opinions and expectations of me but I don’t really think about that to me it doesn’t matter,” she says.
“To me the things that matter are the expectations of myself and what I want to achieve and what I want to get out of the day.
“It’s just about improving and seeing yourself get better and I don’t take anyone else’s opinions into account except for my close circle.”
Raducanu is the first to admit she is far from the finished article.
She knows what she wants to improve on in 2022, which will be a constant learning curve.
It will be her first full year travelling on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour as the newest member of the world’s top 20.
But her non-tennis target might come as a surprise to some.
“I’m a big adrenaline junky,” she says. “I have my driver’s licence but I’m a big motorsports fan so maybe get my motorbike licence – something speedy and fun.”
With preparations for The Australian Open now well under way, she will barely have time to mark Christmas.
Her life may have changed forever, but it’s what she’s been working towards since she first picked up a racket.
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