Emma Raducanu is set for a return to the grass at Wimbledon next week as a Grand Slam winner — under pressure to end Britain’s 45-year wait for a women’s singles champion.
The teenager stood out on her run to the last 16 in the All England Club 12 months ago before withdrawing from her match against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic due to breathing difficulties.
But her Wimbledon debut was just the prelude to a stunning victory at the US Open in early September, beating Leylah Fernandez in the final.
Raducanu, a qualifier, didn’t drop a set at Flushing Meadows, becoming the first British female player to win a Grand Slam crown since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977.
That win propelled her to global stardom, with endorsement deals piling up as she cashed in on her stunning success in New York.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the 19-year-old, who is currently in 11th place in the world and has not won more than two matches in a tournament since.
Raducanu has come under scrutiny for her failure to settle for a long-term coach and has also struggled with fitness issues and a bout of coronavirus.
But despite her early departures from the Australian Open and French Open, the pressure at her home Grand Slam will no doubt be high.
Andy Murray ended Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s Wimbledon champion in 2013, and repeated it three years later.
– 45 years of waiting –
But Wade’s triumph at Wimbledon in Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee year remains the last time a British woman has won the All England Club.
Raducanu’s preparation for Wimbledon took a hit when she was forced to retire from her first round match in Nottingham against Viktorija Golubic earlier this month.
The British number one, who is placed 10th at Wimbledon, subsequently withdrew from the WTA event in Birmingham and did not appear in Eastbourne.
That leaves her with less than a set of grass court tennis under her belt for Wimbledon.
Raducanu sparked more fears around her recovery from a side load when she withdrew from a scheduled second practice session with Garbine Muguruza on Friday.
Earlier this month, she admitted she’s been doing things “backwards” by winning a Grand Slam so early in her career, while establishing herself as a full-time professional in life.
“For that to happen very quickly, there are definitely a lot of challenges coming,” she said.
“But managing, learning and growing through the adversities I’ve been through, I’d much rather do that, learn from those experiences and keep building and making progress.”
Retired British player Tim Henman, who was sidelined during Raducanu’s run to the US Open title, has advised her on how to cope with being the home star at Wimbledon.
“What’s being said in the papers or on social media or television, you can’t control it, so why worry?” said the former Wimbledon semi-finalist.
“When you’re young and haven’t had the experience yet, it’s not always easy, but when I think of her mental fortitude with the way she played in New York during those ten games, she’s incredibly strong mentally.” told the PA news agency.
“Her tennis abilities are visible to everyone. The challenge for her is to build up this physical robustness. But she’s 19, she still has so many opportunities ahead of her.”
The world number four, Paula Badosa, has urged British fans to ease the pressure on Raducanu and support her to adapt to life on the WTA Tour.
“She needs time and she needs more experience on tour and she will get it. People need to stop putting all this pressure and expectations on her,” she said.
“What she did is play really well at one Grand Slam and she won it, so you can see how good she is.”