Jawad Iqbal Jawad Iqbal

The tragedy of Emma Raducanu

Emma Raducanu has struggled to match her US Open-winning form (Getty Images)

It is hard not to feel a teeny weeny bit sorry for Emma Raducanu, who was hailed as the next big thing in tennis after her fairytale win in the 2021 US Open. She was just 18 when she won at Flushing Meadows, a Grand Slam triumph achieved only three months after she finished her A-levels. It prompted breathless talk of her being a once-in-a-generation tennis superstar – a British Serena Williams, no less.

How absurd all this sounds just three years later: Raducanu now makes most of her money from commercial endorsements rather than winning the big tennis tournaments. It is a sporting tragedy of sorts. The sense of a great sporting potential so far unfulfilled casts a cloud over everything else, including the millions in sponsorship deals that have come her way since she burst on to the scene.

The future always looks bright and each comeback, such as last night’s, is treated as the real deal

How rich is Raducanu? She set up her company Harbour 6 Ltd in 2020, and is the sole director and only employee. Raducanu earned £9.6 million in the year ending February 28, 2023. Raducanu’s total career earnings from tennis prize money are a mere £3.2 million. It is her lucrative sponsorship deals that have made her super-rich. The list of her corporate sponsors is quite something: Porsche, Tiffany, Dior, British Airways, Evian, Wilson, Nike, HSBC and Vodafone. Not bad for a player currently ranked 303rd in the world.

Raducanu became an overnight star after winning the US Open in what was only her second Grand Slam tournament. It was a story to warm even the coldest hearts. Her winning smile and remarkable composure made her one of the world’s most marketable sports personalities.

Yet things started to turn sour pretty quickly when it came to the actual tennis. At Wimbledon in 2021 she was forced to retire from her fourth round match as she was struggling with an anxiety-related problem. In truth, Raducanu has had difficulties with form and injuries almost continuously. She has changed coaches multiple times and tends to make headlines of late more for her appearances at celebrity events rather than any feats on the tennis court.

Even her youthful exuberance seemed to vanish at one point. In one interview, she admitted to a certain naivety about the world of tennis and speculated that she might have been taken advantage of: ‘You have to be on guard because there are a lot of sharks out there…they see me as a piggy bank.’

It’s true that it hasn’t all been doom and gloom on the court. Lass night, Raducanu beat former world number one Angelique Kerber. But the German has only recently returned from maternity leave.

In January, Raducanu was knocked out in the second round of the Australian Open after China’s Yafan Wang beat her in three sets. She struggled with sickness at the end of the match, appearing to have breathing difficulties, clutching at her chest and abdomen. It was later put down to a stomach bug. She had only just returned to tournament tennis after missing most of the 2023 season to have three operations – on both her wrists and her ankle. She had come into the tournament in Australia saying that she was a ‘better player’ than before her surgeries. It was not to be.

The future always looks bright and each comeback, such as last night’s, is treated as the real deal. It is becoming an all too familiar theme, with speculation growing that she is brittle of mind and body. That might be premature but it is fair to say that, with every passing year, her US Open triumph looks more and more like a one-off.

Her supporters would counter that Raducanu is only 21 and has plenty of years in the game ahead of her. She had a meteoric rise to the very top, with all the attendant hype and publicity. It meant she didn’t have a chance to acclimatise to the rigours of the tournament circuit and get a chance to grow and mature away from the spotlight. Maybe, maybe not. No one will ever be able to take away from her the glory of her US Open triumph, even though the chances of her becoming a tennis great in the mould of Serena Williams appear far-fetched. For now. Being a multimillionaire may prove compensation of sorts.

Written by
Jawad Iqbal

Jawad Iqbal is a broadcaster and ex-television news executive. Jawad is a former Visiting Senior Fellow in the Institute of Global Affairs at the LSE

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