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When the Wimbledon draw was made, the smart money wasn’t on Emma Raducanu being the last British woman standing.
That is not to denigrate her tennis ability. Her wildcard into the draw – a Grand Slam debut – is a reward for an impressive string of results.
But after Covid derailed Johanna Konta, Katie Boulter could not quite manufacture an upset of No2 seed Aryna Sabalenka and the other Brits fell by the wayside, the teenage Raducanu is the one that remains.
Having been guided through the LTA Pro Scholarship Programme, which helped take Cameron Norrie into the seeded ranks at Wimbledon, there is a sense of excitement within British tennis about what the 18-year-old from Kent can achieve.
But this is a career in its infancy, her senior Wimbledon bow coming just two months after sitting A-levels in maths and economics.
Whatever happens against Marketa Vondrousova, Raducanu will be left counting at least £72,000 for her passage into the second round, not a bad payday for the world No338.
She played with a maturity in the first round, which defied her age, fighting back from behind in the first set to produce the biggest win of her career against Vitalia Diatchenko, a player who had once knocked Maria Sharapova out of Wimbledon.
“I’m just really pleased to be into the second round,” said Raducanu. “I feel like I’m playing well and everything is just a bonus to me right now. I’m just really enjoying myself, just taking the moment in really.”
The brakes have certainly been let off her career trajectory in the past 24 hours. During the various Covid lockdowns, Raducanu’s tennis progression had been limited, the playing bubbles on the WTA Tour not extended to the same degree on the lower-ranked events, meaning many playing opportunities went begging.
It enabled her to focus on her studies although the waiting game doesn’t appear to have been to the detriment of her tennis, on the evidence of her appearance on Court 18, a venue she returns to again today.
Raducanu’s back story is an interesting one. Born in Toronto to a Romanian father – Raducanu is unsurprisingly a self-confessed Simona Halep fan – and Chinese mother, they moved to London when she was just two years old.
Growing up, she was thrown into every sporting venture imaginable: horse riding, swimming, basketball, golf and skiing as well as ballet and tap dancing before seeming to find a niche in the unlikely combination of tennis and go karting.
“I started my very short go-karting career in a bus garage in Streatham before going to a proper track,” she said in a recent interview with the Sunday Times. “From the age of nine, I started motocross in a forest somewhere for a year. This was all alongside tennis.”
The myriad of different opportunities turned a self-confessed shy girl into more of an extrovert, but it became abundantly clear that it was with a racket in hand rather than a steering wheel where she was most naturally suited.
On court yesterday, she admitted to being riddled with nerves, an expected pre-match sensation on her Wimbledon debut, despite having played and won on the same court at the junior event.
“I think at the beginning there was definitely an element of nerves,” she said. “In my first service game, I’m pretty sure I hit four double faults.
“It was just a nervy experience in the beginning, playing your first main draw Grand Slam match at Wimbledon. A lot of people there, you didn’t want to let them down.
“I’m just happy to have settled into the match… and that I managed to find a way through the tough moments, then I settled in and starting playing more relaxed.”
There will be a familiarity again on court today, although the nerves are still expected to be high for such an inexperienced player.
But in many ways, she has nothing to lose. Already, she has exceeded her expectations and that of others, and today lying in wait is Marketa Vondrousova.
Admittedly, it is clay rather than grass where the Czech player feels most comfortable – she is a former French Open finalist, and yet Raducanu goes in believing anything is possible.