In mid-June, Emma Raducanu was expecting to enter the Wimbledon qualifying draw – until a quarterfinal finish at the Nottingham 100K ITF tournament saw her earn an eleventh-hour main-draw wildcard.
Now, the world No.338 is into the last 16 after a captivating week of play at the All England Club.
Raducanu’s second-round win over world No.42 Marketa Vondrousova, and third-round triumph against 45th-ranked Sorana Cirstea, were her first ever victories over top-100 opponents.
Raducanu was a top-20 junior at the end of 2018 and won an ITF 25K title in India in December 2019 to crack the WTA top 500 – but since then she has played just five professional tournaments.
Such limited activity can be explained by niggling injuries and her school commitments, plus a reluctance to travel in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her first competitive outings of 2021 came just last month during the grass-court season, during which time she enjoyed that serendipitous run in Nottingham.
Entering Wimbledon with just four matches under her belt in the previous 15 months, the 18-year-old became the youngest British female player in the Open Era to advance to the fourth round.
Raducanu is coached by Nigel Sears – who has previously worked with Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova – and admires Grand Slam champions Simona Halep and Li Na.
“It's really such a coincidence that those are two of my favorite players that I try to model my game after,” said Raducanu, an acknowledgment of the fact her father is Romanian and her mother Chinese.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Raducanu's family moved to London when she was two, and she makes regular trips to Bucharest to visit her grandmother.
School has played a significant role throughout her teenage years.
She takes her studies seriously – her A-levels were maths and economics – and she believes it has helped her achieve life balance.
“I think staying in school has definitely helped me in terms of having another set of friends I can come into,” she explained. “It was a different way of life. It's a bit of an escape as well for me ... it's kept my mind occupied.”
The pressure and expectation accompanying local players at their home Grand Slam can be crushing. But Raducanu has truly embraced the moment.
She has turned off her phone notifications and has been determined to relish all aspects of her first Wimbledon campaign. “I thought, if I'm not going to enjoy Court 1 at Wimbledon, home crowd, like what are you going to enjoy?” she said after beating Cirstea.
This competitive joy has proven infectious, with Raducanu captivating British celebrities including Liam Gallagher, Tim Peake and Gary Lineker, who have all tweeted about her.
Emma Raducanu BIBLICAL— Liam Gallagher (@liamgallagher) July 3, 2021
Wow! What a performance from 18 year old @EmmaRaducanu. Fearless, ferocious, fabulous. Well played. ??????— Gary Lineker ? (@GaryLineker) July 3, 2021
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are also following her progress, even predicting that she will win the entire tournament.
“I was just thinking, you know, to play every point like it was my last point, like it was match point, it was my last point here at Wimbledon. I think that also is a trick that I've been playing with myself.”
“The way that I'm approaching my matches is each time I'm thinking to myself, Why not? (In the third round) I was like: Someone has to be in the second week, why not me?”
“I actually hit with Garbine Muguruza. I was so chuffed just to be able to hit with her and see how intense she was. It definitely made something click in my head: Wow, this is the level I need to be training at. I need to be this intense if I want to achieve anything remotely near to what she has. I think that definitely was a small turning point.”
Experts are saying…
“We talked after training and she had a great rhythm and a great attitude on court. That I really noticed. She was so nice and humble and I loved practising with her. She's young and (it’s) never easy to play on grass and on the big stage. You have to go through those emotions and believe in yourself. I'm not surprised (she’s gone this far).”
- Garbine Muguruza
“It seemed like she owned the moment without being … precocious. There isn’t this sense of like, 'I’m too cool for school.' She didn’t walk out on No.1 Court with her headphones on, pretending like she was walking into training. She waved to the crowd; she literally had a beaming smile … and waved to everybody as though she was walking off the court. It was very endearing.”
- WTA Insider senior writer Courtney Nguyen, speaking on the No Challenges Remaining podcast