Emma Raducanu is in Sydney as her Australian open preparations continue
Can Emma Raducanu skydive? It is one of the few questions Britain’s rising tennis star has not answered in her remarkable short career, but we could be about to discover the answer.
The 19-year-old will, on Tuesday, begin life under her new coach Torben Beltz as she enters her first tournament of the year, the Sydney Tennis Classic. Nothing too unusual in that, perhaps, but Beltz is anything but an ordinary coach.
The German, who has already been praised by Raducanu for his "positive" and "cheerful" energy, has always found ways to keep players in his charge on their toes. During his long, and hugely successful, tenure with three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, he would make wagers with her over things like how far she would progress in tournaments, with the loser having to do forfeits – including going skydiving.
That fun factor is just one of the qualities to which helped Beltz bag the most coveted and exciting job in tennis. He is said to be a quiet and analytical coach, with a relaxed and positive manner which won Raducanu and her team over.
Torben Beltz is renowned for his fun personality
As she looks ahead to her first full season on the WTA tour and the unenviable task of trying to follow up one of the most astonishing breakout years in sporting history, making sure to keep things fun on and off the court will be a priority, but experience was a huge factor in her choice, too. Luckily, managing a major champion is something Beltz, 45, is well-versed in and – maybe just as importantly – he also has managed a teenager before.
Born in Itzehoe, a quiet north German town not far from Hamburg, Beltz started his career playing on the German national circuit, but quickly switched to coaching. In 2004 he began working with Kerber when she was 17, in what was the beginning of a working relationship which spanned almost two decades.
In three separate spells together over that timeframe, he helped Kerber navigate the pro-tour as a youngster, guiding her steady rise to the top 10, and eventually two major titles and becoming the world No 1 in 2016. Raducanu said in November that she was confident Beltz’s experience could "help guide her through" too.
Angelique Kerber was another player to experience success early
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Andrej Antic, editor in chief of German publication ‘tennis MAGAZIN’, has known Beltz since 2006, and says the successful Kerber partnership was in large part down to Beltz’s loyalty and discretion – two things that will suit Raducanu, who generates enough headlines on her own. "You could have a beer with him in the pub, he’s friendly to anyone if you go up to him and talk to him – but in terms of Kerber he didn’t tell you a lot," Antic says. "The secrets he would never tell, he’s a loyal person.
"Kerber always said the coach has to stay behind, and he was perfect in that. He was never a person who went in the limelight. He knows exactly his role. [Raducanu] wants a person with experience and someone who stays behind – not like Patrick Mouratoglou [Serena Williams’s coach]."
He also has a proven track record of improving players’ results. As well as Kerber, Beltz also coached Croatia’s Donna Vekic, and his two-and-a-half years with her from 2017 to 2020 saw her break into the top 20 for the first time. Though their working relationship ended awkwardly, with Vekic disputing Beltz’s public claim that their training and scheduling opinions differed, he went on to reunite with Kerber soon afterwards to more success. After two years of sketchy results, former world No 1 Kerber returned to the Wimbledon semi-finals last July, and Beltz’s presence was touted as a reason behind her transformation.
"He helps her to get loose, to be relaxed, so I think that is something he can bring," Antic says. "He sees if the person gets too much stress, and he has a talent to relax this person."
Raducanu has not played a competitive match since her first round loss at the Linz Open to China’s Wang Xinyu in November, and had to pull out of the Melbourne warm-up tournament last week due to only just having come out of isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.
She has two wins to her name since her US Open triumph and the eyes of the world remain upon her every move. on Tuesdat she faces Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, a player ranked five places above Raducanu at 13th, and who reached the final at the Adelaide International last week, losing out only to world No 1 Ashleigh Barty.
Raducanu will need all of Beltz’s emotional and sporting intelligence to overcome her, but it is helping his young charge overcome the even greater challenges which lie ahead that will ultimately define his tenure. One thing is for sure: the world will be watching.