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Emma Raducanu is back where it all began as she battles to be fit for Wimbledon

It is in one of those slick promotional films that are intended to show the sky’s the limit that Emma Raducanu provides a hint of the struggle she contends with, one week out from Wimbledon.

The four-minute Nike micro-documentary with her belongs to a series entitled ‘What are you working on?’ and she must be the only participant who actually takes the opportunity to talk herself down. ‘After the US Open, everyone expected me to win every tournament I was ever going to play again,’ she relates. ‘It’s a bit unrealistic because perfection just doesn’t exist. I’m working on letting go.’

The film takes her back to her raw, unreconstructed roots in suburban Bromley, south-east London, and the Canada Heights motocross dirt track where she raced bikes as a nine-year-old.

Emma Raducanu says ‘perfection just doesn’t exist’ amid growing expectations of her career

But it’s hopeless. Everything, from the clothes she wears, to the immaculate interior of the car she drives and the relentless close-ups of her, present a highly choreographed picture of polished perfection. And perfection is poisonous in these times.

The hate, spite and vitriol which emanate from the darker recesses of social media are often tinged with envy, which is why so many seem to have formed a negative view of the teenager who delivered a story for the ages at the US Open, just nine months ago.

Any stories about Raducanu generate digital traction. Negative stories about Raducanu generate infinitely more digital traction. The psychology of these times is truly deadening.

The repositories which give rise to abuse, much of it anonymous, have multiple sources of jealousy to feed off. This 19-year-old is successful, personable, articulate and attractive. She commands three languages and speaks estuary English. She brings a contemporary ethnicity through her Chinese mother, Renee. And she has wealth.

Since Flushing Meadows, she has been signed up to seven lucrative commercial deals, including Evian, British Airways, Dior, Tiffany & Co, Porsche and, last week, HSBC. The estimated value of all this £10 million, more than five times her US Open earnings.

Raducanu has deals with Evian, British Airways, Dior, Tiffany & Co, Porsche and HSBC

Raducanu has deals with Evian, British Airways, Dior, Tiffany & Co, Porsche and HSBC

RADUCANU’S TURBULENT YEAR 

June 2021: Makes slam debut as a Wimbledon wild card, aged 18. Retires from her fourth-round match, citing breathing difficulties and sickness.

July 2021: Switches coach from Nigel Sears, Andy Murray’s father-in-law, to Andrew Richardson.

August 2021: Wins the US Open without dropping a set, making her the first qualifier to do so in the Open era.

September 2021: Cuts ties with Richardson. Loses in first round at Indian Wells.

October 2021: Wins first WTA tour match at the Transylvania Open before losing in the quarter-finals.

November 2021: Appoints Torben Beltz as coach, a German who worked with Angelique Kerber.

January 2022: Loses in second round of Australian Open, citing a blister on her racket hand.

February 2022: Climbs to career-high ranking of 12. Retires in first round of the Abierto Zapopan tournament with a leg injury.

March 2022: Makes her playing debut for Britain at the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers. Wins one match and loses another in defeat by the Czech Republic.

April 2022: Reaches her first quarter-final at a WTA 500 level event, losing to world No1 Iga Swiatek at the Stuttgart Open. Splits with Beltz.

May 2022: Retires in first round of Indian Open with a back injury. Makes French Open debut, losing in second round. John McEnroe takes issue with her ‘revolving door’ of coaches.

June 2022: Retires in first round of Nottingham Open with a suspected pulled muscle. Later dismisses fears that she will be unfit for Wimbledon.

 

The deals have elicited veiled criticism from some within tennis, who feel she should be concentrating on sport and banking her success later. These authorities perhaps consider themselves vindicated by Raducanu’s struggle for success and fitness, failing to win three successive matches since her US Open triumph and labouring with a string of injuries which leave this week’s Hurlingham Club exhibition event as her only possible warm-up for Wimbledon. Her participation in SW19 is not guaranteed.

The unpredictability of life in elite tennis makes it hard to sustain an argument that she should have turned these blue-chip suitors away. Her own struggles with injury go back over five years. She knows there are few certainties.

But promotional deals are certainly not what they used to be. Wayne Rooney disclosed in a court case 12 years ago that Sir Alex Ferguson limited him to five sponsors as a Manchester United player. Raducanu has, to put it mildly, a different kind of marketing appeal to Rooney. Picturing her with the product is simply not enough.

For Evian, there have been cheesy films of Raducanu hitting balls with pop artist Dua Lipa and engaging in a game of ‘agree/disagree’ with her, on the merits of staying out after 2am and asking someone out by text message. (Raducanu draws on her US Open triumph to answer the first of those and has nothing to offer on the second.) Neither of these filming sessions will have been brief.

Perhaps there might have been a little less of all this bagatelle, though that would not have kept the negativity at bay, given that women players who can only dream of achieving what Raducanu has done also describe a tide of misogynistic social media abuse.

‘I come off court, win or lose, and there’s always going to be something written on social media,’ says Sonay Kartal, the British No 10 who regularly appeared in national junior finals against Raducanu from the under-nine to under-13 age groups, winning several of them. ‘There’s something there every day. I just don’t let it affect me.’ After a string of injury problems, Kartal reached the Ilkley Trophy semi-finals yesterday and will play at Wimbledon.

It doesn’t help that Raducanu’s stellar rise has created an impression that she has neither known hardship, nor overcome disappointment and adversity to prevail in the way that those cherished in sport are supposed to do.

Raducanu and pop singer Dua Lipa (right) take part in a shoot together for Evian

Raducanu and pop singer Dua Lipa (right) take part in a shoot together for Evian 

Such a picture is deconstructed in a new book about the player by the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday tennis correspondent Mike Dickson, which provides by far the most detailed sense yet of a decade in which she progressed from a seven-year-old, cycling around an empty court as her father received tennis lessons nearby, to become a Grand Slam champion at 18.

The book, ‘Emma Raducanu – When Tennis Came Home’ relates that there was not an abundance of money. The LTA provided her parents with considerable support. The road was long and arduous, to remote tournament outposts where she often did not find success. Minsk and then the Indian outpost of Solapur, just before Christmas 2019, were a particular struggle.

A breakthrough win ensued in Pune, west India, where she pleaded with her coach Matt James to move from one end of the court to the other to give her encouragement in the burning heat of the semi-final.

‘She was saying: ‘Matt, you’ve got to effing help me get through this match’,’ James relates. ‘She had nothing left. It was a dogfight.’ This is nothing that other players have not known but it has certainly been a missing dimension in the story of Raducanu’s apparently miraculous progression.

The book’s narrative is also dotted with the myriad injuries — growing pains, it would seem — which have added to the challenge. The pain in her shin before a Futures event on the Wirral. A sore leg before a tournament in Bolton. A troublesome wrist in 2019. A back spasm before the first tournament of the following year, in Glasgow.

Raducanu has stumbled in early rounds of the Australian Open and the French Open this year

Raducanu has stumbled in early rounds of the Australian Open and the French Open this year

Last winter — when Raducanu would have expected to continue developing her game — was blighted by Covid, a sequence of injuries and a four-week period during which she was afraid to leave the family home alone because she was being stalked by an obsessive who was subsequently brought to court and issued with a restraining order.

None of this features in the glossy narrative, of course, though what does unintentionally emerge from the promotional films is how little hinterland Raducanu has been able to develop, amid the relentless quest for a tennis breakthrough.

Dua Lipa is the woman of the world in their Evian ‘Agree to Disagree’ clip, with Raducanu momentarily worldly when emphatically disagreeing with the statement ‘all publicity is good publicity’.

A cover-story piece with Raducanu for Elle UK has her ‘in conversation’ with the actress Gemma Chan, discussing Singapore, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (one of the ‘fewer than 10 films’ she’s ever watched) and the milk frother she takes everywhere as a home comfort. Chan, a serious A-lister, chips in, though this is clearly all about Raducanu, who models a £2,700 Dior coat, £3,000 Dior dress, £6,500 Tiffany bracelet and £5,000 Dior earrings, and a very great deal more. This is no casual fashion shoot. Regardless of her progress at Wimbledon, there is agreement among Britain’s women players that Raducanu’s achievements in New York have utterly changed their own perspective on what might be possible.

‘It puts in perspective that the dream we all have to win a Grand Slam is not completely unachievable,’ says Kartal. ‘All you need is some good luck on your side and some momentum.’

Raducanu was forced to retire against Viktorija Golubic in Nottingham earlier this month

Raducanu was forced to retire against Viktorija Golubic in Nottingham earlier this month

Mimi Xu, the 14-year-old GB under-18 champion who will this week bid to qualify as the youngest Briton to play Wimbledon for 100 years, has recently rallied with Raducanu at Roehampton’s National Tennis Centre. ‘It’s been really eye-opening,’ says Xu. ‘Seeing that if she can win like that, we can do that one day, too.’

Little imagination is required to know what a Wimbledon appearance for Raducanu will look like. A teatime Centre Court game for the optimal BBC audience. As a world top-20 player and with the Russians absent, she will be expected to progress past opponents deemed less challenging.

Yet so much of it will be new. She’s actually never played on Centre Court. She’s barely begun. It’s very hard to dispel a pervasive feeling that she needs the constancy of a permanent coach who can help her along this complicated way, though for now she is without one.

She is asked in the Elle interview what is the best advice she has been given or would give to young women. ‘Whatever you’re doing, try to really enjoy it, and have fun,’ she replies. ‘When I’m genuinely smiling and happy, that’s when my best results have come.’

For someone so very young, carrying the dead weight of expectation and desperately seeking to shed an image of perfection, that seems rather less than easy.

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk