How Emma Raducanu’s court craft and hunger are taking Wimbledon by storm

Emma Raducanu plays in the third round on Saturday

A code-cracker with a racket

“Emma is a perfectionist who won’t be happy with an A – it has to be an A*,” said Matt James, an LTA base coach who has worked with Raducanu since 2018. Since early last year, this gifted 18-year-old has prioritised A-levels in maths and economics over tennis. And while her intellect may have kept her off the court, it also makes her the player she is.

In both her Wimbledon victories to date – first against Vitalia Diatchenko and then the former French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova – Raducanu has cracked her opponents’ games open like a Sudoku puzzle. With her strategic insight and multi-layered approach, she has a similarly disruptive quality to two precocious grand-slam champions: Poland’s Iga Swiatek and Canada’s Bianca Andreescu.

“The first thing I noticed about Emma was her courtcraft,” said Miles Maclagan, who used to coach Andy Murray. “She has a very complete game, but it’s about knowing when to use all those different options. For such a young player, she has an amazing understanding of how to break people down.”

A backhand to match the best

As a young girl, Raducanu’s favourite player used to be Li Na, the Chinese double grand-slam winner who retired in 2014. And just like Li, she uses her backhand as a weapon, taking the ball early and driving it deep with a powerful swivel of the hips.

Emma Raducanu (2-R) is seen as an aspiring youngster

Credit: Emma Raducanu/Instagram

“The backhand has always been world class,” said James, an LTA base coach. “The forehand has improved a lot. She changed her grip a year ago, just before lockdown, and that’s made a big difference.”

Everything is smooth and simple, underpinned by a relentless athleticism. As her first two opponents discovered, Raducanu will keep coming at you.

Hunger for knowledge

Since refocusing on tennis this summer, Raducanu has brought the same hunger to her preparation that she previously did to her studies.

When she draws an unfamiliar opponent, she will get on the phone, ringing around for information on their strengths or weaknesses. And after setbacks – such as her 6-2, 6-4 defeat to Heather Watson at last year’s Battle of the Brits exhibition – she gets back on the phone, asking anyone who saw it where she went wrong.

Most teenagers would leave this sort of research to their coaches, but Raducanu is an unusually mature character who wants to steer her own career rather than entrusting someone else with the reins.

“She thinks big,” said Nigel Sears, the experienced campaigner who became Raducanu’s main coach at the start of the grass-court season. “She has an analytical mind, which she gets from her dad and her mum [a pair of successful corporate executives]. She is very ambitious, so when she thinks about professional tennis, she’s not thinking about being an also-ran on the tour. She wants to do something.”

Ready for the big stage

For all her self-assurance, Raducanu is not immune to nerves. “She actually froze against Harriet Dart on the centre court at Nottingham last month,” said Sears, “with about five people watching. That was a first match for a long time on anything like a big court.

“But the great thing is that she had had a progression,” Sears added. “She played her first match here on Court 18, where she had a very good experience as a junior. Then they switched her up to Court 12 and she said ‘That’s fine.’ Now, I think she’s ready to step up for a big court. I would prefer it if she was Court No1 rather than Centre, but I think she could handle either.”

The scheduling committee must have been listening, because Raducanu’s adventure will continue on Court No1 this afternoon against the big-hitting Sorana Cirstea – a woman who shares the Romanian roots of her own father Ian. It will be Raducanu’s first appearance on a show court at the slams, but surely not the last.

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