'She's got it in her': Dellacqua backs Raducanu to shine

  • Matt Trollope

Despite being a reigning Grand Slam champion, British teenager Emma Raducanu remains largely untested on tour.

It is what made her 2021 US Open victory so extraordinary; beginning in the qualifying rounds as the world No.150, she won 10 matches in straight sets to complete perhaps the most extraordinary run to a Grand Slam title the sport has ever seen.

MORE: AO qualifying: Who can make a Raducanu-like run? 

Raducanu arrives in Australia inside the top 20 with a global profile that has exploded in the past four months. Inevitably, she will play AO 2022 with a far bigger target on her back and brighter spotlight shining upon her.

It is tempting to think – and probably sensible to acknowledge – that this enormous jump in both competitive level and stature in the game might have come too quickly and intensely for a 19-year-old to properly adjust.  

But according to former world No.26 Casey Dellacqua, Raducanu’s achievement in New York, regardless of how much extra pressure it might bring, means she cannot be discounted at Melbourne Park.

Raducanu's US Open win stunned the tennis world

"When someone's got it in them to be a Grand Slam champion, I don't think you can ever not talk about them in terms of winning another major. To have that champion mentality and drive, and to do what she's done, she's got it in her," Dellacqua told ausopen.com.

"The women's draw is so open in my mind. There are so many players I've got my eye on, to see where they fit in the draw, see their form after the off-season, how the lead-in events go. The AO is always a tricky one to predict because players are coming in with a kind of clean slate.

"But I definitely think Emma Raducanu's name has to be there, in the picture somewhere, in terms of going deep in the AO." 

Making it even harder to predict how Raducanu might fare is the fact there are few typical data points to refer to when trying to assess her chances.

She has played in the main draw at just two Grand Slam events. Until June, she had never competed in the main draw of a WTA-level tournament. And she never won a WTA main-draw match until late October, when she advanced to the quarterfinals in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. 

While Raducanu showed signs of her immense potential with a run to the last 16 as a wildcard at Wimbledon in 2021, the only other titles she had ever won came at a handful of minor ITF-level events in 2018 and 2019.

She is also is yet to face a top-10 player.

"She's got her whole career to look forward to. She'll find her feet on tour. She already knows she belongs there. It's now just about getting your teeth stuck into that lifestyle of being a professional tennis player week-in, week-out on tour," Dellacqua said.

"She's going to get (direct) acceptances into all of those (WTA) tournaments. So it's just now about managing that, her body and her mind, and just staying as consistent as possible. 

"Also understanding that you're not going to win all the time, you're not going to have a week like the US Open every week on tour (laughter). It's unrealistic to think like that. 

"I think her future is bright. She seems so motivated and keen – why wouldn't you be when you've just won the US Open?"

It is important to focus on that point again. Emma Raducanu won the US Open.

How does a qualifier, ranked 150th, at just 18 years of age, which such limited tour-level experience, do what she did in New York?

Dellacqua described it as a 'once in a lifetime' story, and admitted she was in awe of the Briton's achievements. Yet when analysing Raducanu’s performance objectively, she said there was a lot to like. 

Emma Raducanu beats Belinda Bencic to reach the US Open semifinals
Raducanu's composure was as impressive as her play in New York

"Her mentality and her movement were probably the two biggest things that I thought, 'wow, this girl's got something extraordinary'," Dellacqua said. 

"We can go into finer details about lack of expectation and all of those types of things, but I still think, for her age, to be able to produce what she did on the big stage, still shows me she's got that champion ability within her. 

"Also her movement. Her ability to, when pushed into corners, bounce out of those corners with such strength, and real fast-twitch fibres at end range, was really incredible." 

Australian audiences are yet to see those qualities in person, with Raducanu still to hit a competitive ball in 2022. 

She contracted Covid in mid December and, when she eventually arrived in Australia, decided against competing at the Melbourne Summer Set because the event came to soon in her recovery.

She will instead commence her season at this week's Sydney Tennis Classic, where she plays Adelaide International finalist Elena Rybakina in the first round.

MORE: Raducanu among 19 of top 30 women at Sydney Tennis Classic

Raducanu will then turn her attention to the Australian Open, where, 14 years earlier, Dellacqua produced her own breakout run, reaching the fourth round as a 78th-ranked youngster and having to deal with her own surge in popularity and interest in her homeland.  

"I remember really vividly, in a sense, I wasn't prepared," said the Australian, who beat 15th seed Patty Schnyder and former world No.1 Amelie Mauresmo in her path to the last 16.

"I didn't have the people and tools to educate me on what that meant, or how to manage it. It really hit me that year, and took me a long time (to adjust). It gave me the belief that I could be there, but it also put a lot more expectation (on me) that I probably wasn't ready for.

"A lot of that stuff, the kids learn (better) these days. I do feel like Emma is way more prepared than I ever was.

"Even post-US Open, she's gone on to play a couple of tour events, and had some losses, but really seems to have bounced back fairly well, knows that she's on this journey, knows that it's going to be tough, and she's quite happy to express that. 

"I don't think she will put too many high expectations on herself; we've heard her say that. I also really like her professionalism; (she indicated) her schedule would not be determined by any of the external factors around sponsorships, deals or photoshoots she had to do. 

"I think that's a really good sign for a young player like that."