Australian tennis champion Todd Woodbridge feels that despite the explosion in her profile and subsequent expectations placed on her, Emma Raducanu has been impressive in her refusal to panic, and could be a growing force on clay.
Following her 2021 US Open victory, Raducanu lost eight of her next 12 matches as she struggled to adjust to full-time competition on the WTA Tour.
Yet since transitioning to clay courts, the young Brit has won five of eight matches, including back-to-back wins in both Stuttgart and Madrid – the first time she had won consecutive matches in 2022.
Woodbridge believes that while Raducanu’s US Open win was an incredible moment in sporting history, the breakthrough may have hindered her development as a player.
“What has stood out though are some real positives in the way she's handled herself by being thrust into such a huge limelight,” said Woodbridge, a 22-time major doubles winner.
“Coming out and not being able to perform at that same level as winning a US Open, and still being able to cope with the disappointment of that, and the negativity from naysayers… I've been impressed about how she's been able to go, OK, I am a work in progress, and I understand that what happened to me was brilliant, but I understand that I'm still emerging and everyone else has to understand that with me.
“It's a really tough environment to be growing up in front of cameras, with everyone like us here having a discussion about her. I think she's handled that as well as anybody that I've seen.
“She's intelligent, she seems to be resilient, and she has this realisation that there is no need to panic about her results in the first few months following the US Open. More than likely, she's going to drop back out of the rankings come the (2022) US Open, but that will be a moment where she's actually, I think, ready to then go again.”
Raducanu is just 19 years of age; Woodbridge believes she will not be playing her best tennis for at least five years.
Part of her journey will involve necessary physical improvement, especially given the niggles she has suffered in the months after her major breakthrough.
Raducanu herself noted a top priority was regular “sparring” practice as she tries to better contend with the pace of shot, quality of play and intense physicality at the top of the women’s game.
"I commentated on her opening match of the season in Australia, where she lost 6-0 6-1 to Elena Rybakina, and at that point it looked to me like she was an excellent junior player being blown away by a seasoned, much physically stronger professional,” Woodbridge said.
"Technically she’s very sound, but when she won that US Open, everything was in her favour in terms of conditions; they use a light ball, it's a very fast court that really allowed her to redirect with pace.
“When she came to Australia, it was a heavier ball and a medium-paced court, and with a powerful opponent at the other end, she's still learning how to physically absorb that.”
Woodbridge felt it was important for everyone to keep Raducanu’s inexperience front of mind as she progressed in 2022.
Following a “light” junior career, she is yet to complete a full season on tour and is competing against new opponents at new venues, all while learning to cope with the weekly grind of the professional circuit and how to manage her time, which includes new media and sponsorship commitments.
Extraordinarily, the current world No.12 had never played a professional-level match on clay until she defeated Tereza Martincova in Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup tie against the Czech Republic in April.
Woodbridge believes this surface could actually suit the teenager, and that she could be a factor when Roland Garros begins later this month.
“She had a good result in Madrid last week, (but) it's got altitude, it's quicker,” Woodbridge said following Raducanu’s run to the last 16.
“I think that's the standout thing for me at the moment, is that the surface, speed and conditions are all relevant to her learning how to play well.
“It's harder to hit through an opponent on clay, which may give her the opportunity to build a bit more confidence to be able to stay in a few more points, to be able to use what her good stuff is.
“She was pretty good at recovering at the US Open, but movement has been taken away from her by (opponents') power over the last three or four months. Clay might give her just enough time to be able to use that, and then do her redirecting and get onto a forehand and things like that.
“(Roland Garros) is probably going to be a good tournament for her. There was lots of focus on her and intensity in Australia (the first major after her US Open win). A little bit of that's taken off her going into the French because results have shown we’ll be focusing on some other players. And it's before Wimbledon, where that's going to be very hard.
“So this is the one that she can go just a little bit under the radar and I think play more freely, and then potentially get some form to go over to the grass-court season with.”
Raducanu continues her clay-court season at this week’s WTA 1000 event in Rome, where she has drawn fellow US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in a first-round blockbuster.