'My own pace': Emma Raducanu is gaining momentum at Wimbledon

EMMA RADUCANU’S SMILE still hadn’t faded.

She was minutes removed from her dominant 6-1, 6-2 second-round victory over Elise Mertens at Wimbledon and seemed to be taking in every moment. As she stood to the side of No. 1 Court for her post-match interview, Raducanu couldn’t help but laugh when asked if the match and her recent stretch on grass marked the best tennis she had played over the last few years.

Before she had a chance to speak, the fans in the stands — almost all of whom were standing on their feet — cheered loudly. She stood back and listened for a moment before responding.

“Well, everyone else said yes, I think,” Raducanu eventually said with the smile plastered on her face. “Yeah, I’m playing really good tennis and I’m just very happy with the improvements that I made. And I knew that all the hard yards and the hard work that I was doing in the year, it would lead to something. And I’m just so happy that I’m able to reap some of the rewards here in Wimbledon.”

While advancing to the third round might not sound like a cause for celebration, Wednesday’s victory marked Raducanu’s best result at a major since her breakthrough title at the US Open in 2021. There, she became the first British woman to win a Slam since Virginia Wade in 1977 — and a superstar overnight at just 18 years old. But since her unexpected run in New York, Raducanu has yet to win another title, at any level, and she’s struggled with what has felt like an endless slew of injuries.

If she was nervous about performing at her home Slam or getting past the Round of 64 hurdle, she didn’t show it against Mertens, with a clinical and nearly flawless performance. And now she will face No. 9 seed Maria Sakkari on Friday with a chance to match her best-ever result at the All England Club.

“It’s worth getting excited for herself, knowing that level is there [and] for her team to know that she’s absolutely capable of coming out against a very, very experienced opponent and putting together a match like that,” three-time major champion and former world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty said after commentating on the match for the BBC. “And I think it certainly sends a message to the locker room to let them know that she’s going at her own pace, but she is certainly back and ready to do some damage at Slams again.”

RADUCANU KNOWS WHAT people think of her. What the expectations are. The criticisms.

She’s heard it all.

The British media and fans have relentlessly followed her every move on and off the court. Her fitness, her constant stream of coaches and her love of the game has all been questioned. Raducanu acknowledged that level of scrutiny “comes with success” — and said it was better than not being talked about — during her news conference on Monday, but it doesn’t make it any easier, especially during the tough stretches.

Raducanu missed much of the 2023 season after surgeries on both wrists and her left ankle, and her ranking plummeted. She was outside of the top 300 when she returned in January.

She used her protected ranking and relied on wild cards for entry to events, playing most of the hard court season. Then she began the clay season with a quarterfinal run in Stuttgart. She was routed in her second-round match in Madrid — later citing exhaustion for the result — and didn’t receive a wild card for entry at the French Open. She opted to not play in the qualifying draw.

She then returned to London and turned her focus to grass. The strategy — intentional or otherwise — has seemed to pay off.

In Nottingham, her first tournament on the surface in almost two years, Raducanu reached the semifinals before losing in a tightly contested, three-set showdown with fellow Brit and defending champion Katie Boulter. The following week, after defeating Sloane Stephens in the first round at Eastbourne, Raducanu seemed to subtly acknowledge all of talk around her with a pointed message written on the camera lens:

“My own pace.”

The 21-year-old further explained exactly what she meant later.

“I would say it’s just, I’m going to do things on my own time, at my own pace, and I’m in no rush to do anything,” Raducanu said. “Everything I’m doing and playing for now is for myself.

“Whether that’s tournament scheduling, whether that’s how much time I take off to train compared to compete, I’m way more focused on my own lane and less susceptible to outside opinions. I’m enjoying it, doing everything for myself and being independent out here.”

Raducanu went on to defeat Jessica Pegula in her next match, marking her first-ever win over a top-10 player. She reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Daria Kasatkina. When she arrived in London shortly after, she was teeming with confidence and momentum, but refused to have any expectations for herself. Instead she said her focus was simply to fight for every match and not allow her frustrations to get the best of her.

Originally slated to play No. 22 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova in her opening-round match on Monday at the All England Club, Raducanu’s preparation went out the window when Alexandrova had to withdraw at the last minute due to a viral illness. Instead, Raducanu faced Renata Zarazua, a lucky loser, and needed a tiebreak to escape the first set before winning 7-6 (0), 6-3 in front of a packed Centre Court crowd. Raducanu called it an “ugly” win but was clearly thrilled by it and the opportunity to continue playing at the tournament.

“I feel just the joy to be on-site, the joy to be part of the buzz. I’m really just enjoying myself,” she said. “I think that each match I win should be celebrated a lot, because I know how hard matches are to win, to come by. I think that now, having had a few wins under my belt, I’m really cherishing every single one because I know how difficult it is to be on the flip side of it.”

That same perspective was evident after her win over Mertens as she soaked in every moment with the crowd.

SLOANE STEPHENS, THE 2017 US Open victor, knows what it’s like to compete in front of a home crowd at a Slam and have the additional weight of being a former major champion. She was sympathetic when asked about Raducanu earlier this week.

“It’s a lot of pressure playing your home slam regardless, and then when people have a ton of expectations on you to actually win and provide results, I think that’s a bit tough,” Stephens said. “Andy Murray won Wimbledon, he won the Olympics. I think that’s what people are expecting of her, but I think she needs a bit of time, obviously, as everyone does when they’re developing their game. Yeah, God willing, she can produce the results that the English people are looking for.”

During Raducanu’s first main draw appearance at Wimbledon in 2021, less than two months before the US Open, Raducanu had her first taste of stardom. She came in a relative unknown, ranked outside of the top 300, and received a wild card to play. She had only played in one WTA event. But with every match she played at the All England Club, every victory earned, she won more fans and better court placement with her enthusiasm and fearless play. Her third and fourth matches were on No. 1 Court in front of capacity crowds.

With the hype around her nearing a fever pitch, she reached the fourth round before ultimately retiring from the match against Ajla Tomljanovic due to illness and difficulty breathing. The following year, during her only other previous appearance at Wimbledon, Raducanu lost in the second round.

On Wednesday, Raducanu returned to No. 1 Court for the first time since that Round of 16 match against Tomljanovic. But this time, as one of the best-known and most revered British players. It was a full circle moment for her.

“I just have such amazing memories from that court,” Raducanu told reporters on Wednesday. “I think [the third-round] match in particular, it was the first time playing on a court that size. The crowd, the environment, the feeling of adjusting at the start, to just playing on a court that big. I only have good memories from that court.”

There seem to be plenty of such moments this week. Raducanu, who grew up idolizing Murray like most of the young British players, will have the chance to play alongside the former No. 1 and two-time Wimbledon champion in mixed doubles in what he has said will be his final appearance at the tournament. She called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and said she needed “10 seconds” to agree to the partnership.

“At the end of my life, at the end of my career, when I’m like 70 years old, I know I’m going to have that memory of playing Wimbledon with Andy Murray,” she said.

And on Friday, Raducanu, who is now just outside of the top 100 in the live rankings, will have the chance to repeat history as she faces Sakkari in a major for the second time. Their first meeting was a stunning 6-1, 6-4 rout in the 2021 US Open semifinals, but Raducanu acknowledged everything was different — from the stakes to their current rankings — this time around. She seemed genuinely excited for the challenge and the opportunity to continue on, for herself and at her own pace.

“It’s going to be one where I’m the complete underdog and I can just enjoy playing in [front of] my home crowd, [at my] home Slam,” Raducanu said. “Yeah, [I’ll] just keep having fun and trying to stay an extra day.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top