Emma Raducanu was sitting A-levels during last year’s French Open – now she is sitting 12th in the world rankings as a US Open champion as she prepares to make her Roland Garros debut.
Since the fairytale of New York, Raducanu has found wins and fitness hard to come by – just like many 19-year-olds in their first full year on tour.
But unlike most in that position, Raducanu has frequently rotated coaches and been able to attract lucrative contracts with eight global brands.
She has understandably struggled with the huge public profile she assumed so rapidly, and become more withdrawn from others on tour. Building a long-term relationship with a coach might therefore seem advantageous, but traditionally that is not the Raducanu way.
“I think they want somebody who can challenge her tennis IQ, and there are very few people who can do that,” says one person with knowledge of the family.
A carousel of coaches
Nigel Sears left the scene after Raducanu’s run to the fourth round of Wimbledon last year, and Andrew Richardson was given a contract until the end of the US Open, which ultimately was not extended despite that unforgettable triumph in September.
Torben Beltz was appointed in November, but gone by the end of April having overseen just 10 WTA matches.
The LTA’s head of women’s tennis, Iain Bates, travelled with Raducanu to Madrid and Rome this month, but a lot of the technical work over the past six weeks has been conducted by the LTA’s senior performance advisor Louis Cayer.
Best known for his work with doubles players like Jamie Murray, Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski, Cayer has been credited with recent improvements to Raducanu’s technique. Both Emma and her father Ian are said to enjoy Cayer’s forensic approach and video analysis.
But perhaps the most significant appointment of the year will turn out to be Raducanu’s new hitting partner. Raymond Sarmiento is practising with her at the National Tennis Centre in London this week and will be part of the team at Roland Garros – and for the foreseeable future, if all goes to plan.
The 29-year-old American has been in the world’s top 300 and was Raducanu’s hitting partner at Indian Wells last October.
The Raducanu approach to coaching
“You can’t keep going left and right,” said one insider I spoke to recently. A much repeated fear is that coaches will no longer be tempted by the inevitably short-term nature of any role with Raducanu.
But another does not see it like that at all.
“They drain the resource and knowledge of coaches pretty quickly, and then they obviously want the next one,” they said.
“When people do things differently, the whole world takes a look at it and thinks this is bizarre, because no-one has done it this way before.
“But I’m not that sceptical because I’ve seen too many people do some pretty wacky things, and they turn out to be goldmines.”
The Raducanu approach to coaching is well summed up by another observer who knows the family.
“If a coach isn’t working, it’s just going to be done,” they said.
“So I wasn’t surprised with Torben [Beltz] going, seeing how she was playing. It didn’t really feel like she made any sort of improvements.
“Obviously, it is brutal and there will be a trail of coaches by the end of her career, I’m sure.
“But there’s also another side. I have actually always found them remarkably respectful of people that perhaps they shouldn’t respect. Their attitude is that they might have that one little piece of gold, and Ian will probe them for an hour until they find it.
“I think they want somebody who can challenge her tennis IQ and there are very few people who can do that. I think that’s quite a difficult thing for them to understand and digest.
“I think they sign up with coaches, and then they get quite disappointed, as they don’t know as much as they thought they did.”
The dad who divides opinion
Ian Raducanu is said to have a “constant thirst for information” by one tennis insider, but of being “obsessed with peripheral detail” by another.
When asked how best to describe him, “demanding, analytical, opinionated and personable” were some of the adjectives chosen in response.
He has been very hard on his daughter in the past. Some refer to emotional blackmail, and talk of Emma’s tears and Ian’s periods of silence.
British player Naomi Broady, whose father Simon has always been the dominant figure in her career (and who did not speak to his son Liam for three years), considers strong parental involvement a huge plus.
“Emma and I wanted to play doubles together over the grass last summer,” she said.
“Her wrist was a bit sore and her dad said point blank she wasn’t to play doubles at Nottingham.
“It was a firm ‘no’, and I actually texted Emma that night and said I know at times it will be really difficult but just always remember that every decision he makes will be for your benefit. He’ll be the only person that you won’t have to question his motives.”
Raducanu is also very inquisitive and analytical, and can hold strong opinions. The expectation is that she will develop greater independence from her father over the course of the next couple of years, but that he will remain an influential figure in her career.
“I’d say Emma is calling the shots, but he is, and will always be, a very big influence. It’s not like she’s going to make a decision without discussing it with him, but I do know that she has made decisions that he has not necessarily agreed with,” is the way one person sums it up.
The road ahead
A Grand Slam title at 18, and a world ranking of 12 at 19, opens a lot of doors – but the associated expectation and profile are a heavy cross to bear.
Signing deals with eight blue chip companies takes overdraft fees out of the equation, but brings with it an expectation of performance and a significant number of corporate days.
The US Open champion seemed especially preoccupied to me in the first few months of this year. That is based on personal experience, and the testimony of others who say she did not always return messages, and appeared less responsive to those who went out of their way to make her feel welcome.
None of which is remotely surprising. Especially if you remember that in February a 35-year-old man was given a five-year restraining order for making unsolicited trips to her family home.
Raducanu’s outlook seems to have improved in recent weeks – helped no doubt by five wins on the clay, as she made her professional debut on the surface. Based on this year’s results alone, she is only just outside the top 50 – which makes her the fourth most successful teenager in the world.
The back injury that forced her to retire from the Italian Open remains a frustration, as were the hip problem and frequent blisters of earlier in the season. Raducanu will probably learn to highlight injuries less as she gets older, but they are not uncommon at this stage of a career – especially as December’s crucial pre-season training block was ruined after she tested positive for Covid.
“Her tennis ability is way ahead of her physical development,” was the way one insider put it.
And the feeling within the sport is that when her body does catch up, Emma Raducanu could take some stopping.