Tennis’ eyes are on Emma Raducanu right now. Her rise since her wildcard appearance at Wimbledon, reaching the fourth round, has been meteoric. In only her second Grand Slam feature after Wimbledon, she stunned established women’s players such as Shelby Rogers and Belinda Bencic to reach the final, before beating fellow teen Leylah Fernandez to win the trophy – all without dropping a set.
Raducanu prefers to play powerful strokes to ensure a strong game, with a fast an accurate serve. Her preference for an offensive style played from the baseline is similar to Chris Evert’s or Steffi Graff’s – the latter being even younger than Raducanu when she won her first Grand Slam title in France in 1987, and both of whom are regarded as some of the game’s greatest players.
She has said that her favourite shot to play is forehand and prefers a hard surface over grass or clay. However, she is also flexible in her approach, with slower second serves avoiding double faults and giving her the ability to dictate her opponent’s play. But it’s not simply been her compelling action on court that has garnered her so much praise from the British public sat at home in front of their televisions this summer.
The dialogue around Raducanu focuses on her potential, on the unique opportunity she has to become a game-changing role model for younger tennis players, specifically a generation of British teens who haven’t had someone of their age to look up to. Indeed, she is a young, multicultural, multilingual Brit, who speaks of the influence her parents’ respective heritages have on her. Her Twitter bio reads ‘london|toronto|shenyang|bucharest’.
Her role models are Romanian Simona Halep and Chinese Li Na, tennis stars who hail from her father’s and mother’s home countries respectively.
But will this intense conversation continue? Is it in any way comparable to the discourse started about Naomi Osaka when she won her first Grand Slam? Many have made comparisons with other prominent teenagers from all backgrounds, such as Billie Eilish, Tavi Gevinson, Olivia Roderigo, Simone Biles, to point out the dangers that come with rapidly elevating teenagers to role model status. Osaka herself has spoken about the feeling of relief rather than joy when she wins, and the inevitable dejection that comes with a loss; her withdrawals from the French Open and Wimbledon were to protect her mental health, provoked by media speculation about her form and career trajectory. Raducanu’s heritage has also sparked conversation about British multiculturalism, including the disjoint between Nigel Farage’s Twitter-based congratulation of Raducanu and his stance on immigration. The screenwriter Dominic Minghella pointed out on Twitter that ‘You can celebrate your Raducanus or you can push back boats. You can’t do both’.
But surely, above all else, Raducanu’s rise presents an opportunity that moves beyond the confines of the paths of those before her?
Aged still only 18, her potential is there but it is still forming, and the more prescriptive the route she is set on – through media, sponsorship, advertising – the less ability she will have to grow and change. If she seeks to use her influence to advocate and campaign, there will inevitably be comparison to other sportspeople such as Marcus Rashford, Lewis Hamilton or the incredibly philanthropical Sharapova. With this will be the criticism so often levelled, that she should ‘stick to sport’, and not the understanding that in the present day, a sports star’s activism, philanthropy, and extra-sporting activities are as important to their image as their professional success.
But Raducanu has already commented on not feeling the pressure thus far, and about not wanting to compromise her lifestyle for new-found celebrity. Her appearances at the Met Gala and being signed as an ambassador for Tiffany are indicators of the latter, but not of her ‘future potential’.
So yes: maybe Raducanu does have the chance to be a game-changer. But the world has to let her decide, rather than putting her in boxes to expand her horizons.