All change for Emma Raducanu as she prepares for SW19 return after meteoric year

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There was little fanfare when Emma Raducanu stepped out onto Wimbledon’s Court 18 for her senior debut 12 months ago.

Over on Centre Court, Katie Boulter was threatening an upset against Aryna Sabalenka, with Andy Murray the headline act of the afternoon.

Raducanu’s straight-sets victory over Vitalia Diatchenko was maybe the last time she was afforded the luxury of relative anonymity.

Emma Raducanu was the darling of SW19 last year
Emma Raducanu was the darling of SW19 last year (Ben Queenborough/AELTC Pool)

When she knocked out former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova in round two, the tennis world began to sit up and take notice, and the spotlight has only intensified since.

The main reason for that, of course, was her remarkable US Open triumph, an unprecedented achievement for a teenager so new to the senior ranks that she had to come through qualifying.

But, if that was a fairytale, it did not take long for the darker side of fame to arrive at Raducanu’s door.

Literally in the shape of an obsessive fan who was given a restraining order and figuratively in the sky-high expectations and scrutiny over her every move on and off the court.

Perhaps inevitably, the road since New York has been bumpy, with a series of niggling injuries, wins hard to come by and criticism of her coaching decisions.

After deciding not to see where a short-term partnership with her former junior coach Andrew Richardson could lead following their US Open success, Raducanu’s appointment of experienced German Torben Beltz proved short-lived.

The teenager insists she enjoys forging her own path while drawing on outside assistance where she feels it is needed, but it is undoubtedly an unusual approach.

More concerning are the continual fitness problems – an issue that also affected Raducanu as a junior. While it is completely understandable it is taking her body time to adjust to the demands of the professional game, there is not yet the sense that she knows when to push and when to hold back.

What Raducanu has in abundance, though, is talent, competitive spirit, intelligence and, above all, time.

Speaking in Nottingham, where a side injury forced her to retire after only seven games of her first-round match, the Kent teenager said: “I am not being so hard on myself and I am really, really enjoying my time right now, and also believing in the work I am doing day in, day out.

“Personally I think I know what I’m doing. I’m still 19 and I’ve already won a grand slam so I can take my time and put things in place because I know my motivation isn’t any less.

“It isn’t always going to be smooth sailing where you just clean up every week. I don’t think anyone would say, ‘I wish I didn’t win a grand slam at 18’, because that is what I set out to do when I started playing tennis.

Lifting the US Open trophy has opened many doors for Emma Raducanu but also pushed expectations sky high
Lifting the US Open trophy has opened many doors for Emma Raducanu but also pushed expectations sky high (ZUMA)

“For that to happen very soon definitely comes with a lot of challenges but managing, learning and growing through the adversities that I have faced, I would much rather have that, learn from those experiences and keep building and progressing.”

Raducanu would be well advised to have a chat with Andy Murray about what she can expect at Wimbledon, where the pressure on home hopefuls is arguably greater than anywhere else.

Lleyton Hewitt experienced something similar at the Australian Open, where he qualified for the first time as a 15-year-old and made 20 singles appearances, reaching his only final in 2005.

“It’s not easy and it’s something that probably comes with experience but everyone’s different with their personalities,” said the Australian, who won Wimbledon 20 years ago, to the PA news agency.

“Some really enjoy it, some prefer playing away in other countries where you’re not quite under that spotlight, you don’t have every family member or friend coming out needing tickets every second day and all those different demands.

“You’ve got to put yourself in a bubble as well and be a little bit selfish to try to get the best out of yourself.

“I think Andy Murray has been unbelievable, how he’s handled it, playing in the Olympics at Wimbledon but also Wimbledon and having so many of those close losses but yet still putting himself out there and having a crack.

“And Emma is going to be in a very similar situation. Whether she plays her best tennis this year, who knows? But I’m sure she’s going to get better and better each year that she steps out there.

“She’s so young still, she’s got such a massive career ahead of her and I’m sure she’ll give herself an opportunity to win the tournament at some stage. The way she played in New York last year, I have no doubt she’ll be there towards the end of the tournament in the not too distant future.”

:: Lleyton Hewitt will be at the Giorgio Armani Tennis Classic, playing in the ATP Champions Tour on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26. Tickets can be found at: https://www.seetickets.com/tour/the-giorgio-armani-tennis-classic

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