Emma Raducanu’s coaching carousel was one of the most prominent storylines of her first full year on tour. From sudden coaching splits to her unconventional decision to work without a full-time person at the helm of her team, it was the talk of tennis.
But despite all the attention, one woman in her inner circle managed to fall under the radar. Raducanu’s youth coach Jane O’Donoghue has been described as the “invisible mentor” supporting her stratospheric rise, and she’s now invaded at the most important moment in the tennis calendar: Wimbledon.
Former player and LTA coach O’Donoghue showed up on the All England Club’s practice courts at Aorangi Park on Tuesday with Raducanu. She will be by her side all week as she prepares to return to the tournament that started her career just 12 months ago.
It came as no surprise to those in the know. O’Donoghue’s former LTA colleague and doubles partner Claire Curran puts it simply: “Jane has never been on Emma’s team.”
A former top 200 player, O’Donoghue spent ten years with the LTA between 2009 and 2019, primarily as the head of women’s tennis. In that role, she helped guide Raducanu’s development especially from ages 13 to 17, sometimes attending her training sessions in Bromley three times a week and also traveling with her to junior competitions.
In 2019, she left her mighty tennis career for the city and now works for the Royal Bank of Canada, but has remained Raducanu’s confidante. “She’s always been an invisible mentor to Emma, she’s a friend of the family,” says Curran. “So even though she hasn’t been on stage in the last three and a half years, she’s very much a part of Emma’s inner circle.”
O’Donoghue, 39, was a sounding board for Raducanu at Wimbledon last year and even attended the men’s final with her at Center Court. During the US Open, she was one of the coaches to whom Raducanu turned for advice as she got closer to her historic title.
Raducanu’s ability to take control of her matches in New York, and for three rounds at Wimbledon last year, was one of the most notable facets of her breakthrough. It’s a style of play she formed with O’Donoghue. “In 2018, Jane told me, ‘Emma will always be the one to change direction, on the front foot, dictating the game,’” Curran says. “She had a very clear understanding of how Emma was going to build play this way. At the US Open, she beat people to the forefront and changed direction – that’s the game they made together.
“When I see her on the pitch with Emma now, I know they’re going to tackle that game identity and really get her back to the way she really plays the game.”
Despite all her success, Raducanu is still adjusting to life on tour. She had nagging injuries and modest results this year. Since the ousting of German coach Torben Beltz in Aprilshe has adopted an alternative “training model” where she consults with a number of different coaches instead of just one.
LTA head of women’s tennis Iain Bates sat in her corner during the clay court season and she has sought technical advice from highly regarded LTA performance coach and doubles specialist Louis Cayer. But with 17 Brits in the singles main draw at Wimbledon, the LTA coaches would have been more stretched. It makes perfect sense, then, that O’Donoghue has been called upon at this point.
Raducanu will make her Center Court debut on Monday, a very busy moment. Fortunately, she can turn to her temporary chief adviser for personal advice. In 2002, like Raducanu, O’Donoghue played in the main draw at Wimbledon for the second time, playing at Center Court against none other than reigning champion Venus Williams. Unlike Raducanu, she was the underdog and lost 6-1 6-1. But this link will no doubt be helpful.
Raducanu, like her parents, would have complete faith in O’Donoghue. Because of their long history of working together, O’Donoghue is able to be direct with Raducanu and knows what works on the field. There is undoubtedly a measure of respect there for their shared interest in the financial sector, which Raducanu and before have spoken of.
She looked relaxed on the practice courts of Aorangi Park with O’Donoghue, despite the injury-plagued run-up to Wimbledon. “Jane doesn’t want to be in the spotlight at all,” Curran says. “She just wants the best for Emma. I think it’s important that Emma has someone like that on her team and her corner.”
There is no suggestion that O’Donoghue will continue this practical role after Wimbledon. We also don’t know if she will be in Raducanu’s box on Monday when she goes to court. Regardless, her presence at the All England Club this week was a welcome foundation for what could well be the most intense two weeks of Raducnu’s career to date.