Until now, only the tennis obsessed might have heard of Emma Raducanu, the wildcard 18-year-old who is the last British woman standing in Wimbledon’s singles draw.
But her second-round victory against her Czech opponent Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open finalist and placed 296 higher in the rankings, means Raducanu is becoming a household name in her grand slam debut – all while awaiting her A-level results.
Two months ago, she was sitting maths and economics exams; on Saturday, she will play in the third round, probably on a show court. It is an experience she has summed up as “surreal”.
Described by the Lawn Tennis Association as “one of the brightest prospects in British tennis”, Raducanu, who moved to the UK from Toronto, Canada, at the age of two, could have devoted herself to any number of pursuits.
“I was initially in ballet, then my dad hijacked me from ballet and threw me into every sport you could imagine. I was doing horse riding, swimming, tap dancing, basketball, skiing, golf and from the age of five to eight, I was go-karting,” she said recently.
“I started my very short go-karting career in a bus garage in Streatham [south-west London] before going to a proper track. From the age of nine, I started motocross in a forest somewhere for a year. This was all alongside tennis.”
Her Romanian father and Chinese mother, both from academic families and who work in finance, wanted to give their shy daughter a diverse skillset.
She settled on tennis, excelling in the LTA’s pro-scholarship programme. She so impressed the former British No 1, Jeremy Bates, the LTA lead women’s coach, that he called coach Nigel Sears, the father of Andy Murray’s wife, Kim.
Sears has been her coach since she was 15, and throughout her time juggling her GCSE’s with turning professional in 2018. “She’s quite a little bright spark,” he said. Inquisitive, very ambitious, grounded, very smart, is how he describes her. “And she thinks big. She was born to play tennis. She likes the stage. And she is eating it up.”
Raducanu’s parents have been careful not to push her too hard, too young. Her father “has a very measured approach to things”, said Sears. “He is not one to rush in, and he is cautious. He knows that she needs to protect her body. He didn’t feel, quite wisely at times, that it was right to risk traveling unnecessarily during Covid.
“So he’s never over pressed for her to play a huge number of tournaments, I mean. That will probably change, because now she’s a full-time pro, and of course she’s going to need to travel and play. I think her parents have had a very sensible approach to it, and they certainly think about things before they just chuck her into situations.”
She has inherited her father’s analytical mind, Sears believes.
Raducanu is enamoured of everything Wimbledon, but especially its food. “The selection of food also is really keeping me going,” she said post-match.
If she had to choose between an A* in all her A-levels, or round four of Wimbledon, she is clear. “I’d have to say round four of Wimbledon. I think anyone that knows me would be like, ‘What?’ Everyone thinks I’m absolutely fanatic about my school results,” added the former pupil at Newstead Wood, a girls’ grammar school in Orpington, Kent.
“They think I have such an inflated ego about it. Actually, I would say I have high standards for myself. That’s helped me get to where I am in tennis and also in terms of school results.”
Her world ranking of 338 will soar after this run to the third round. And with her win on Thursday she earned £115,000 – nearly four times her career earnings to date. “Quite frankly, I think the sky’s the limit,” Sears said. “She has the necessary qualities and she’s hungry enough, and eager to learn.”
As for a possible first appearance on an AELTC show court when she takes on the Romanian Sorana Cirstea, he said: “I think she’s ready to step up for a big court. I think she’ll handle it.”
Raducanu is also not fazed. “I’m really going into this next match with absolutely nothing to lose again and I feel that everything I’ve got right now is a bonus,” she said.