Raducanu keeping ambitions cautious ahead of Wimbledon return

Former US Open champion faces - now ranked 168 - faces Ekaterina Alexandrova on Monday

Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - June 29, 2024 Britain's Emma Raducanu during practice REUTERS/Matthew Childs
Britain's Emma Raducanu during practice ahead of the Wimbledon Championships (Reuters via Beat Media Group subscription)

By James Toney at Wimbledon

Expectation management, expertly strategised by the best sports agents ten percent can buy, has become the default name of the game for Emma Raducanu.

Back at Wimbledon for the first time in two years, the 2021 US Open champion, whose fledgling career has already charted soaring peaks and deeper valleys, just wants to be realistic.

Raducanu's run to the quarter-finals at Eastbourne, one of three British women to make the last eight on the south coast, means she arrives here with perhaps more optimism than she is letting on.

She claimed her first win over a top ten ranked opponent this week when she beat world number five Jessica Pegula, writing 'new start' on the camera lens and cryptically alluding to difficult, but unexplained, personal circumstances she'd had to overcome.

It's not easy being Emma but at least she is smiling, which for seasoned observers of her short but spectacular career is certainly progress.

"I'm very happy to be back, I've missed this tournament so much,” she said.

“I'm just grateful for the wildcard opportunity, I have amazing memories from 2021 when I reached the fourth round.

"I was here last year doing commercial stuff and it really stung, I didn't really watch much of the tennis to be honest, it wasn't nice being at Wimbledon and yet not being involved.

"I feel very confident in my body, I played three matches at a high-level last week and came through physically unscathed. I've got no doubts about fitness, which is nice.

"This preparation has worked out really well, I got a good balance between playing and staying fresh. I'm taking a lot of confidence from that."

It's easy to forget this is just the 21-year-old's third Wimbledon appearance, having missed last year following surgeries on wrist and ankle injuries.

Two years ago, newly minted as British sport's brightest star, it appeared the weight of the world was simply too heavy to bear.

But her profile demands a big stage and there is no gentle start on the outside courts for the world number 168.

She will follow defending men's champion Carlos Alcaraz onto Centre Court on Monday for a first round match with Ekaterina Alexandrova, seeded 22nd.

"I played on Centre Court in 2022 and it's really special, to get out there again is just an amazing opportunity," Raducanu added.

"It's a tough match, she's seeded really well and has great weapons that this surface only amplifies.

“I'm the complete underdog, she's older and more experienced and ranked a lot higher. It's just an opportunity to get a good scalp and enjoy how I've been playing in the last few weeks. If I get through my first round, I'd be over the moon."

There are 19 Brits in first round action early next week though only two, Jack Draper and Katie Boulter, are seeded.

There are plenty of encouraging signs for the future for the Lawn Tennis Association but talk at the All England Club remains very much about the past - and the hopes over the next fortnight for the 2013 and 2016 champion.

Andy Murray trained on the outside courts on Saturday, just one week after an operation to remove a spinal cyst. He is scheduled to give a news conference on Sunday, where he is expected to confirm whether he's fit enough to face talented Czech Tomas Machac on Tuesday.

If not, his focus will be playing the men's doubles with brother Jamie, a rather fitting way to call time on his career here, 19 years after his debut.

Mark Petchey, who coached both Murray and Raducanu, has hinted they may combine in the future, the Scot making no secret of his desire to stay involved in the sport when he retires this year.

"Nothing surprises me about Andy,” added Raducanu.

“For a tournament like Wimbledon, you will push your body to the max and take the consequences that will come. That's how much playing here means, especially to a British player.

"When I think of Wimbledon, I think of Andy. He is the hero I looked up to growing up and watching this on television. I just hope he's out there on Tuesday."

New British men's number one Draper can empathise with Murray and Raducanu's injury struggles, missing chunks of last season with a list of problems and claiming his body was 'made of glass'.

He watched on the sofa as Alcaraz, 17 months his junior, beat Novak Djokovic to become the third youngest player to win the men's title after Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg.

Draper has the talent but the doubts have been about the physical and mental side of his game, though time away has added a new focus and he beat Alcaraz at Queen's Club earlier this month to earn his seeding here.

"I sat on my couch watching on television feeling really frustrated, it's hard to watch tennis when you are injured," he said, ahead of his first round match with Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer on Tuesday.

"It really motivated me but perhaps it was a blessing. My body wasn't ready to be a top player and time off helped me discover the fire I needed.

"I don't see any reason why I can't be one of the top players in the world, that's my expectation, that's my goal.

"I got myself into the top 40 but I realised when I came up against top ten players, things I was doing were not going to cut it.

"My tennis has never been the problem, I just need to get my body more robust. I've come a long way in a year and I'm very proud of that. It means the world to be seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time."

For the latest action on the British summer grass court season, check out the LTA website