Emma Raducanu & the case for tempering expecations on rising superstar

Emma Raducanu rose to the top of tennis quicker than anyone expected. But staying there will require management - both on and off the court.

Emma Raducanu in a file photo. (Credit: Twitter/@EmmaRaducanu)

2021 has been a whirlwind year for Emma Raducanu. The Toronto-born British superstar shocked everyone by making to the Wimbledon fourth round in her debut Grand Slam earlier this year.

As if that wasn’t enough, she went the whole distance in the US Open. Not only did she win the title, she did so as a qualifier – meaning she played 10 matches to win the trophy. And she did so without dropping a set.

However, the expectations on the 18-year-old are now much higher. Whether or not she was prepared for it, she is now a Grand Slam winner and someone who’s seen a rapid rise in the game.

Interest in her will only increase, which can be both a blessing and a curse. However, the best thing for her to do right now would be to focus on her game.

Mind you, there’s no indication of that not being the case at this point. That being said, Raducanu has understandably struggled in the aftermath of her US Open win.

The good thing is that she has time on her side. Anyone who’s watched her play knows she isn’t quite the complete article just yet; the fact that she’s so good despite that is almost scary.

And it is clear she is ready and willing to take the next step in her career. That was evident right after she sealed her maiden Grand Slam win.

Why so? Because, almost immediately after winning the title, she announced her split from then-coach Andrew Richardson.

Emma Raducanu – the struggles post-US Open

Her reason for doing so was the belief she needed someone with experience coaching on the WTA Tour. “Where I was at after Wimbledon, I was ranked around 200 in the world.

“I feel like at this stage in my career, and playing the top players in the world, I realised I really need someone right now that has had that WTA Tour experience at the high levels, which means that I’m looking for someone who has been at that level and knows what it takes.

“And especially right now because I’m so new to it, I really need someone to guide me who’s already been through that.”

It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time she’s changed coaches so rapidly. During her surprise Wimbledon run, she had Nigel Sears in her corner. However, she parted ways with him after the tournament and employed Richardson.

Now, after parting ways with Richardson, she played in three WTA tournaments – Indian Wells, Transylvania Open and Upper Austria Ladiez Linz. In both Indian Wells and Austria, she lost in the first round.

The grind of the Tour is something that, for most players, only gets easier with time. But Raducanu’s first major foray into the Tour as a player to beat was not ideal.

And it would have doubtless helped her cause if she had a permanent coach. She recently named Torben Beltz as her new coach, which will help her considerably for 2022.

But more than just the on court aspect, how she manages the off-court distractions will also be key.

Keeping expectations low key to long-term success

It is worth noting that Emma Raducanu only turned pro in 2018. And she spent a good chunk of 2020 either playing exhibition matches or smaller tournaments; in between she studied for her A-level examinations too.

As such, her rise to the top has been far quicker than anyone has anticipated. It also means, however, that her current rise will not be sustainable if expectations aren’t managed.

Right now, she is still very much in the developmental phase of her career. That means fans and experts alike should be okay with her losing every now and again; the key goal at this point should be an all-round improvement.

Far too many women’s tennis stars make bright starts to their careers but fizzle out over time. Kim Clijsters was a notable example of this; Ana Ivanovic was arguably another. The list goes on and on.

But aside from the work, what she and her team should also be doing is minimising the outside noise. Social media and the ever-changing digital world make it all too easy for players to be exposed to criticism.

This much was evident when Raducanu found herself exposed to criticism from, by all people, England rugby coach Eddie Jones. That she brushed it off as well as she did was in itself a positive thing.

This isn’t the first time she’s been targetted like this either. Piers Morgan, the media personality and Twitter troll extraordinaire, also criticised her post her Wimbledon exit.

The truth is, much as we would like for this to stop, it probably won’t. Thus, her team and indeed she herself must focus on what’s important.

If the wins keep rolling, the noise around her will become more positive.

Shayne Dias

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