JO DURIE: Raducanu could be as good as Graf

JO DURIE: Ruthless, fearless and driven – Emma Raducanu could be as good as Steffi Graf… the only surprise is how quickly she has become a star

  • Emma Raducanu had been the buzz of junior tennis when she was 10
  • Even then, her mindset and athletic ability made her stand out from her peers
  • But she quickly matured to take to the tour – and rapidly improved her game
  • It’s no surprise to see her flourish, only just how quickly she has done it 

We have known about Emma for some time in tennis circles. We watched her coming through since the age of about 10. I first saw her at the junior nationals in the under 12s. Word gets around, so you go and watch certain players.

You know when someone stands out. You see certain signs and they were there with Emma. Her mindset, athletic ability, the way she went about her tennis. You think: ‘Well, watch out for Emma Raducanu.’

But many things can happen from 10 to 18. You don’t know if they’re going to have the nerve and courage for the big arenas. You never quite know the journey of an athlete.

Britain’s latest tennis star Emma Raducanu stunned the world by winning the US Open

Some players see the hard work that they need to do and can’t take it. It’s pretty relentless. Others end up on scholarships at university in America, another route. Not everybody is mature enough to go on to the tour straight away.

But Emma had what it takes. I watched her again at the pro league that was put on for British players during lockdown. That was a super experience for her. She played every day. It was good money. Good matches. It kept her ticking along because she wasn’t able to travel and play in anything else.

I saw her and thought: ‘Wow, this girl has got a good game. She’s really come on.’ You could see how good she was from the back of the court. How relentless she was in her execution of shots.

But the 18-year-old has always shown the type of talent that would take her far in the game

Raducanu’s world ranking has shot up in the last year as she emerges into a major force

I watched her practise in the Fed Cup and you could even see it then. She played exactly like she is playing now. Every second on court she is engaged, focused. You can see that she wants to do everything properly and is keen to improve.

She’s also very stable emotionally. Some players are quite up and down emotionally. I haven’t seen her have a bad day, even a bad second, on court. But we’re all a bit surprised at how quickly it has happened for her. I’m not surprised that she is playing this well. I just thought it would take another year or so. I thought at 20, 21 maybe. But this? Wow, is it ever good to see.

I played Jennifer Capriati when she was just 15. I played Steffi Graf at the same age. And Emma has got that same drive that you could see from them. When I played Steffi and Jennifer, I could feel it coming down the court at me.

Emma’s opponents can feel it as well. They seem to be quite panicked at the other end of the court. It’s something she is projecting. A fearlessness. ‘I am going to go for that shot, so watch out. I’m not going to second-guess myself.’ 

Raducanu possesses the same drive as greats like Steffi Graf (left) and Jennifer Capriati

Technically, she is very, very sound. On both sides. She has worked on her forehand a great deal, changed her grip a bit and really bedded it in. Her serve has improved since Wimbledon.

Her movement is very good. She blends in with the shot, moves easily from a defending position to an attacking position. You don’t want to get too excited but she’s built the foundations for a great career. After all, she’s played a Grand Slam final! A few years ago, I watched my semi-final at Roland Garros for the first time. We didn’t have videos. No mobile phones. So I’d never seen the match. and it was interesting. There was no great emotion. No waving to the crowd.

Everyone used to say I was too nice; they obviously didn’t know me. I am not too nice when I want something bad. But you’re brought up in a certain way. You’re not ‘out there’. It was thought of as arrogant to cheer on yourself after you’ve won a match.

That is what’s changed. The girls are much more expressive than we were then. They show more emotion. You can see that in Emma. She’s having the time of her life.

She has shown great maturity and is superb in managing her emotions on court

Things will change for her now. She is no longer the unknown quantity and with that will come expectations. I felt that. I followed some great British women: Ann Jones, Virginia Wade, Sue Barker, all Grand Slam-winners. I felt that pressure trying to live up to them. I loved my career but I wondered if I was a slight disappointment to some because I didn’t actually win a slam. Only got to a semi-final.

Yes, I had my family around me. My coach was always brilliant at deflecting some of that pressure. But maybe I let it get to me.

Emma comes across as sensible and thoughtful. She looks like she’s got a handle on it. She comes across wonderfully in her interviews.

I hope the people around her will support her too. It has been one fantastic journey. And goodness, she pulled us all along behind her.

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