Toshiba Rising Star: Emma Raducanu

  • Matt Trollope

Emma Raducanu emerged as the sport’s newest global superstar when, as an 18-year-old at the US Open in September, she became the first ever qualifier to win a Grand Slam tournament.

Since then, her social media following has exploded and a long line of notable sponsors have signed up the young Brit, who will make her Australian Open debut as a top-20 player.

Notable stat

Raducanu’s US Open run saw the sport’s history books completely rewritten given the unprecedented nature of her achievement – a boon for stats nerds.

One factoid that’s frequently referenced is that Raducanu won 10 matches – three in qualifying, seven in the main draw – without dropping a set to win the title in New York. All while ranked 150th. 

But we’re opting for an equally notable, if less reported, stat; she set a record by winning her first major singles title in only her second Grand Slam main draw.

The previous record was held by Monica Seles and Bianca Andreescu, who won their first major titles in their fourth appearances in Slam main draws.

On court

In mid-June 2021, 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.

Suddenly, the then-world No.338 found herself in the last 16 in her Grand Slam debut, reaching the second week via wins over world No.42 Marketa Vondrousova and 45th-ranked Sorana Cirstea – her first ever victories over top-100 opponents.

She arrived at the US Open fresh off a quarterfinal finish at the ITF 100K event in Landisville and a run to the WTA 125K final in Chicago, results which, along with her Wimbledon performance, boosted her ranking by almost 200 places in just two months.

By the time she had won the US Open, she had won 21 of her past 25 matches.

She closed the year by advancing to the quarterfinals of the tournament in Cluj-Napoca in Romania – registering her first ever WTA-level wins in the process – yet opened 2022 with a sobering 6-0 6-1 loss to Elena Rybakina at this week’s Sydney Tennis Classic.

"I think it's important that everyone manages expectation. It's a long year, she's got a lot of great opportunities,” former top Brit Tim Henman said of Raducanu, who is yet to face a top-10 player. “Form’s temporary, class is permanent."

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 13 professional tournaments in the past two years.

This limited activity can be explained by niggling injuries and her school commitments, plus a reluctance to travel in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Off court

School has played a significant role throughout Raducanu’s 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.”

X-factor

Raducanu is, like many young professional players, a citizen of the world.

Her Twitter bio reads “london | toronto | shenyang | Bucharest”, a nod to her residence, place of birth, and heritage. 

“It's really such a coincidence that (Simona Halep and Li Na) are two of my favourite players that I try to model my game after,” said Raducanu, referencing the fact her father is Romanian and her mother Chinese.

Raducanu's family moved from Canada to London when she was two and as a result she is fluent in English, Romanian and Mandarin.

This, according to experts in the sports business space, sees her appeal to multiple markets and audiences.

Her increasing commercial leverage is evidenced by partnerships with Tiffany, Dior, Evian and British Airways, all secured in the short period after her US Open win.

She said…

“I thought Wimbledon was such an incredible experience. Fourth round, second week, I couldn't believe it. I thought, what a great achievement. But I was still hungry.”

On the pressure that could follow becoming a major champion: “For me I don't feel absolutely any pressure. I'm just having a free swing as anything that comes my way. That's how I faced every match here in the States. It got me this trophy, so I don't think I should change anything.”

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, after practising with Raducanu at Wimbledon.

"Her mentality and her movement were probably the two biggest things that I thought, 'wow, this girl's got something extraordinary'. For her age, to be able to produce what she did on the big stage, shows me she's got that champion ability within her. Also 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."
- Casey Dellacqua, after watching Raducanu at the US Open.