Emma Raducanu’s stunning breakthrough raises expectations for British tennis

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A year ago Emma Raducanu was more concerned with calculators than tennis rackets.

The then 18-year-old was one of the millions of pupils contemplating the return of home schooling and preparing to sit A-Levels in economics and maths.

Raducanu’s talent was no secret within the British game, with her natural ability evident from the first moment she picked up a racket, but she returned to the sport in June as a young hopeful ready to take her first real steps in the professional ranks.

That just three months later she was lifting the US Open trophy is a rise so startlingly improbable that it still seems hard to believe, even though the evidence is sitting proudly at the National Tennis Centre in London.

Raducanu won 10 matches, all in straight sets, to become the first qualifier ever to make it all the way to a grand slam title.

But she was not just any qualifier, she was a rookie who had never so much as won a WTA Tour match, and who played her first major tournament only a couple of months earlier at Wimbledon.

It was at the All England Club that Raducanu showed the British public and the tennis world what a special talent she is, reaching the fourth round with displays of poise and intelligence that belied her lack of experience.

Emma Raducanu reached the fourth round at Wimbledon
Emma Raducanu reached the fourth round at Wimbledon (David Gray/AELTC Pool)

Ranked 338 at the start of the Championships, Raducanu finished the year as only the fifth British woman to make it into the world’s top 20 despite playing in just 10 tournaments.

The curse of such an achievement is the expectation and impatience it generates, and Raducanu has already experienced that in the hugely disproportionate reaction to her performances since that remarkable day in New York.

The teenager could be likened to a budding musician who managed to hit all the right notes brilliantly but is in no way ready to lead the orchestra.

Raducanu has appointed an experienced and nurturing coach in German Torben Beltz and is focused on catching up physically to her peers as she prepares for her first full season in the sport.

Whether she goes on to win more grand slam titles next season or in the future remains to be seen but Raducanu has changed the landscape of British tennis and there could be a very exciting decade to come.

The Kent teenager naturally grabbed all the headlines but she was not the only British tennis success story in 2021.

Cameron Norrie rocketed from outside the top 70 to the verge of the top 10 on the back of an animalistic capacity for hard work while Dan Evans established himself in the top 30 and defeated Novak Djokovic on clay.

It was the end of the road, meanwhile, for Britain’s best female player of the last 30 years, with Johanna Konta bowing out at the age of 30 saying she no longer had the desire to invest everything necessary into the sport.

Times are finally changing in men’s tennis, too, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both hampered by injury and Daniil Medvedev joining the ranks of grand slam champions.

Djokovic, though, remains a man on a mission when it comes to sweeping all records before him and was agonisingly close to becoming the first man since Rod Laver to win a calendar Grand Slam.

There are many questions heading into 2022, not least what impact vaccine mandates will have and how the sport tackles the issue of China moving forward. It looks set to be another fascinating year on and off court.

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