Two years ago, a relatively unknown teenager took the tennis world by storm. Emma Raducanu burst onto the international scene in New York to win the 2021 US Open and secure her first Grand Slam title, aged just 18… But now she wishes she hadn’t.
In an interview with The Times, the young British star admits that she feels a sense of regret that she won such a big title so earlier in her career. As she puts it, “I am resilient, my tolerance is high, but it’s not easy. And sometimes I think to myself ‘I wish I’d never won the US Open.'”
Raducanu entered the tournament as the 150th best female player in the world and became an overnight sensation following her triumph in New York; her face was plastered across the back (and front) pages of every newspaper in the country as Britain had discovered their new female tennis champion.
Her run to the US Open Final was miraculous, reaching the final of a major Grand Slam tournament without dropping a single set – a run that lasted a staggering 10 consecutive matches – to become the first British female champion since Virginia Wade in 1968.
“I was under so much pressure to perform, people had no idea what was going on and I had to have this facade, to keep everything inside. It has been really hard.”Emma Raducanu
But the years culminated into mighty obstacles to overcome. For Raducanu, the former champion, who turns 21 this year, injury setbacks and poor form began to plague her fledgling career, forcing her to withdraw from this year’s Wimbledon and US Open to focus on another extended period away from the court.
Her candid admission about the unbearable pressure that comes with being a young athlete in the public eye is all too revealing, shining a light on the dark side of elite sport and the inevitable weight of expectation that comes with early success.
The parallels between Emma Raducanu and Naomi Osaka
Raducanu’s experience definitely echoes Naomi Osaka; the all-conquering tennis star won her second US Open in three years in 2020, just a year before Raducanu made her tour debut. Osaka’s stock had never been higher, but following an opening-day defeat to eventual finalist, Leylah Fernandez, Osaka announced her decision to leave tennis altogether.
A champion for players’ mental health, self-care and preservation, the former women’s tennis No.1 received unwarranted criticism for unapologetically putting herself first, withdrawing from tournaments, and skipping media obligations in the name of self-preservation. As of 2023, she has since fallen to No.429 in the ATP Rankings.
In a first-person essay she penned for TIME Magazine, Osaka mused: “Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
Raducanu has definitely felt the sting of media and commercial obligations – and their occasionally predatory nature – too:
“What I have realised in the past two years, the tour and everything that comes with it, it’s not a very nice, trusting and safe space. You have to be on guard because there are a lot of sharks out there. I think people in the industry, especially with me because I was 19, now 20, they see me as a piggy bank.”Emma Raducanu
In a recent SportsPro study, Emma Raducanu was considered to be the 12th most marketable athlete in the world, ahead of global superstars such as Stephen Curry, Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappé. Following her US Open win, Raducanu signed mega deals with brands such as Tiffany & Co., Nike, Porsche and British Airways, to name a few.
Brand Raducanu was the hottest property in tennis and everyone was vying for her signature. But high-profile exits and missed tournaments will start to follow Raducanu as she looks to recover her best form on the court. Now ranked just 130th in the ATP Rankings, she has an opportunity to start again and focus on herself. Perhaps away from the public eye, she’ll be gracing the lofty heights of a Grand Slam final once more.