She may be the UK’s newest sporting sweetheart, holding the future of British women’s tennis in the palm of her service hand, but Emma Raducanu has credited her Chinese and Romanian parentage with much of her drive and determination.
The family biography of the Toronto-born teenager with a Romanian father and Chinese mother who came to Britain when she was just two is now becoming increasingly familiar to the British public.
Less well known is the fact that until the Covid pandemic she travelled regularly to her mother’s home city of Shenyang, in northeast China, to visit relatives and train at a local sports institute away from the growing limelight in Britain.
Here, at the Shenyang Institute of Physical Education, she not only practised the strokes and court play that propelled her to Saturday’s final of the US Open, but also played table tennis with professional players in order to improve her reactions.
And while other aspiring British schoolgirls may have looked up to the likes of Virginia Wade, Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Johanna Konta, Raducanu took inspiration from China’s tennis idol, the former world number two Li Na.
"Even though Li Na has retired, I’ve watched lots of her matches on YouTube, because she was really aggressive," Raducanu said in July. "Her movement was what impressed me the most. She was so agile and quick－and very powerful. She wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be aggressive."
Emma Raducanu with her father, Ian
Renee Raducanu, right, watches from the stands as her daughter Britain's Emma Raducanu leaves the court for medical attention July 5, 2021
Emma Raducanu with students at the Shenyang Institute of Physical Education in north east China, which she visits regularly for training
Raducanu’s mother, Dong Mei Zhai, who is now known as Renee, grew up in Shenyang before moving to Toronto. She then moved with her husband, Ian, to Bromley, southeast London, when their daughter was two.
The 18-year-old first picked up a racket aged five, and after showing early promise at the Bromley Tennis Academy, earned a scholarship from the Lawn Tennis Association, allowing her to train while continuing her school work.
She has credited her Chinese and Romanian roots with keeping her grounded, despite an increasingly international lifestyle on the tennis circuit.
The teenager, who can understand Chinese, but is said to still need to work on her speaking skills, says her drive and discipline are in large part thanks to her mother’s family.
Emma shot for Vogue
Credit: Scott Trindle
Emma in Vogue's October edition
Credit: Scott Trindle/Vogue
“I think the confidence comes from just inner belief,” she tells Vogue’s October edition. “My mum comes from a Chinese background, they have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture.”
She has also spoken of her pride in her parent’s strict work ethic, born of their determination to succeed as migrants in a new country.
Following her stunning breakthrough run at Wimbledon this summer she said: “My mom has always instilled a lot of the qualities, like discipline and respect for other people, into me, so I think having parents like I do, they always push me, they have high expectations, so I’ve always tried to live up to that
"I would say I take a big part of my inspiration from her. She always shows me by example what ‘hard work’ means.”
See the full feature in the October issue of British Vogue available via digital download and on newsstands from Friday 10th September.