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- British professional tennis player
The Emma Raducanu bandwagon will roll back into Britain this weekend when tennis’ newest global sensation headlines the Champions of Tennis tournament at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday.
In her first match in the UK since storming to her sensational US Open victory, Raducanu will face Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse on the theatre’s hallowed acrylic court, which has been assembled together for one final time before the event relocates to a new venue next year.
Organisers had not planned to broadcast the match, but with levels of public excitement growing for Raducanu’s homecoming, the BBC confirmed on Friday afternoon it would show the event live on the Red Button.
Raducanu and Ruse are close friends on the tour, having recently shared several practice sessions at the Transylvanian Open. In keeping with the celebratory theme of this semi-competitive event, world no.83 Ruse has packed more than just her racket for the occasion.
“I asked Emma, 'What would you like me to bring to London?' She was like, 'I want some cozonac' - it’s a sweet bread we eat in Romania around Christmas - and visinata,” Ruse told Telegraph Sport. The latter is an alcoholic drink made from sour cherries. “It’s very light and very sweet, we’ll drink some after the match for sure!”
The context of Raducanu’s return to Britain is significant. Her last appearance on home soil was overshadowed by breathing difficulties during her fourth round exit at Wimbledon, although that was reduced to a mere hiccup following her Flushing Meadows triumph.
The 19-year-old has enjoyed mixed fortunes since then - losing early at Indian Wells and going out in the quarter-finals in Romania before her first round exit in Linz as she continues to adapt to life following her meteoric success.
“I talked to her after Linz and the other matches she lost and I told her, ‘Come on girl, it’s just a match, you’re playing really well. You’re tired mentally, physically, because you’ve played a lot this year.' Winning a grand slam is a really big deal," said Ruse.
Having climbed an incredible 324 places in the WTA rankings to break inside the world’s top 20 this year, Raducanu’s homecoming - tickets for which sold out within a week - will provide a flavour of the hype and attention the star will receive during her first full season on tour next year.
“We signed Emma to play before the US Open - the fact she went on to win it was a huge shot in the arm for us,” said Paul McCann, the vice-president of tennis events at IMG, the agency which also manages Raducanu. “To have the US Open Champion and hottest property in women’s tennis come and play at our event is huge, we’re all incredibly excited about it.”
Crowds at the Champions of Tennis event have typically been of an older demographic in the past, although McCann has high hopes Raducanu’s feted appearance - for which she will receive a “modest” fee - will attract a younger audience that “aren’t necessarily hard-core tennis lovers.” But those attending who are hoping to get their hands on Raducanu merchandise - a Wimbledon-esque towel or something of the sort - will be left disappointed.
Fresh from her first holiday in seven years - Raducanu’s new coach, Torben Beltz, is not expected to be present for the event. The players’ competitive edge, however, will be. “We are really happy to play against each other,” said Ruse. “It’s funny, because Emma has told me, 'Gabby, take it easy on me - it’s just an exhibition match.'”
Twenty-four years since John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg renewed their famous rivalry at London’s treasured concert hall, it is fitting that the sport’s latest superstar will bring the curtain down on the long-running event.