British tennis sensation Emma Raducanu has experienced the full gamut of a rollercoaster career all before her 21st birthday. Her Australian Open campaign is the start of getting it back on track, writes ADAM PEACOCK.
“Experience is a great advantage,” Jimmy Connors said once.
“The problem is that when you get the experience, you’re too damned old to do anything about it.”
In tennis years, Emma Raducanu has aged quickly. Lived almost a whole career before her 21st birthday.
Won the US Open in 2021 as a qualifier – the only player in history to do so in a major – and all the attention with it. More sponsors than a Formula One team. An MBE from the King.
And then, a slide down the other side. From Met Gala invites, to expectations not met.
The rankings rarely lie. Raducanu has gone from the pre-US Open number of 150, to 10, and back out to 83.
All in the space of 18 months.
Looking for a more sustainable, gradual rise, Raducanu set herself up for 2023 by hitting the gym. Under the guidance of renowned fitness trainer Jez Green, she wanted to prepare herself for the rigours that wore her down in 2022.
She sure looked like an elite athlete stepping on to court in Melbourne this morning for a first round encounter with German Tamara Korpatsch.
All except for a small hint of strapping on her left ankle, from rolling it badly 10 days ago. Here we go, she thought. Back on the rollercoaster.
Even without the benefit of an extra day (or a night match to give the ankle all the time possible to heal) Raducanu stepped on to court against Korpatsch, ranked one place higher at 76, and cleared all the worry and nerves away.
Aside from a couple of wobbles on-serve – understandable given serving in practice was the worst thing for a dodgy ankle – only bright signs appeared.
Raducanu’s signature backhand was humming and she attacked Korpatsch’s inviting second serve. To prove she’s not just about power, the 20-year-old softened the hands beautifully on multiple drop shots.
There’s a player there, all right.
This was not the ‘one and done’ player that crept into the subconscious of many observers following her US Open success. A 20-23 win-loss followed the triumph in New York.
Sure, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2021 was great. And her brand was easier to sell than a Frosty Fruit in summer.
Nike, HSBC, Porsche, Vodafone, British Airways, Evian, Dior. Travel in style, look the part and stay hydrated. Decent combo.
But tennis. The tennis!
More losses than wins. Injury worries.
One and done. And Anna Kournikova and Eugenie Bouchard reincarnate? The results for those two after breakout Wimbledon performances never really returned, though the bank account filled up as focus wandered.
Adding to the intrigue has been a cavalcade of coaches.
Victoria Azarenka’s former mentor Sebastian Sachs, in the entourage today, is Raducanu’s fifth in 18 months.
Family interference is said to be causing the indecision, with Raducanu’s father Ian a key figure.
The fourth coach, former men’s tour player Dmitry Tursunov, walked away after a trial period.
And yet, Tursonov, vanquished but not bitter, made clear there is hope for Raducanu, because priorities are where they are supposed to be.
“She’s a hard worker and doesn’t think or act like a superstar. She is hungry to improve and obsessed with tennis,” Tursunov told tennismajors.com last year.
Looked like it in the first round of the Australian Open.
Next is a second-round meeting with 7th seed Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who keeps getting better. Lock that in for a big court. What a beauty.
A sharp conclusion may be forthcoming but the match won’t define Raducanu, with the entirety of 2023 to give a much clearer picture.
Lived experience is the best experience, and unlike what Jimmy Connors once said, Raducanu has plenty stored.
All before her 21st birthday.
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