What’s happening with Emma Raducanu’s coaching situation? It’s the same question everyone has been asking since the news originally dropped, on September 24, that she had split with her US Open mentor Andrew Richardson.
Admittedly, Raducanu spent perhaps three-and-a-half months working with the German coach Torben Beltz, but it never had the look of a lasting partnership. And now, as she heads into Sunday’s French Open, she will have no dedicated coach in her player box for the first time at a slam.
Telegraph Sport has reported before on the unconventional approach of Raducanu’s family. Her father Ian has never had much faith in coaches as sources of continuous improvement. Instead, he likes to mine them for areas of specific expertise before casting them aside.
But there could be another issue influencing Raducanu’s lack of a regular, steady appointment: a growing feeling inside the game that there could be more to lose from coaching her than there is to gain.
Yes, she might be a poster girl for the WTA Tour – and for British tennis in particular, with billboards already popping up around the country to advertise her participation in Birmingham’s Rothesay Classic. But perhaps this simply isn’t as appealing a job as it might first appear.
None of this is intended as a reflection on Raducanu’s character or talent. Instead, it is an inescapable consequence of tennis’s time-honoured 12-month rolling rankings system. A year after you experience any eye-catching success, you inevitably find yourself in defensive mode, trying to hang on to what you’ve got.
For the next five weeks, Raducanu will continue to enjoy a free hit. Any points she picks up will go straight on to her tally of 2,910 – which puts her in 12th place on the ladder. But as soon as Wimbledon comes around, everything changes. Raducanu will suddenly have points on the board – points that she will lose if she doesn’t match her extraordinary results from 2021.
‘You don’t want to be just another person Raducanu has got rid of’
“On the face of things, working with Emma might look like a plum job,” said Calvin Betton, who coaches a variety of British players at Challenger and Futures level. “But it’s worth asking, ‘What would success look like?’ You could get her playing better and she would still go down the rankings, unless lightning strikes twice and she wins again in New York.
“Then there’s the perception – accurate or not – that she has a trigger-happy dad. As a prospective signing, you might be thinking ‘My reputation could take a hit here.’ You don’t want to be just another person Raducanu has got rid of. And then you reach the point where it almost starts looking like the Manchester United job – an apparently desirable position which people are actually wary of taking on.”
Raducanu continues to receive bids from would-be coaches, with the last example being the experienced Italian Riccardo Piatti. But the lack of stability in her team to date means that aspiring suitors are likely to expect hefty remuneration, as a counter-balance for the potential vulnerability of their position. Alternatively, she can keep on using Louis Cayer – the LTA doubles coach – as a “technical consultant” who offers analysis from a distance.
It was Cayer whose advice and training techniques helped revive Raducanu’s fortunes over the European clay-court events of the last five weeks. He fine-tuned her serve and forehand, which had both regressed technically since the US Open. But this is a peculiar situation by any standard: a technical overseer whose priority is with his doubles proteges Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski, and who describes his assistance of Raducanu as “extra-curricular”.
Betton calls Cayer “probably the best technical coach in the world”. And he also understands the Raducanu family’s confidence in their daughter to coordinate her own training and development. But he took issue with a quote from “a source close to the family” that appeared in a BBC report this week. The source suggested that “they [the family] want somebody who can challenge her tennis IQ, and there are very few people who can do that”.
“Emma is clearly an incredibly smart young woman,” said Betton, “but does that mean that she doesn’t need a conventional coach? That’s like saying ‘My kid has a remarkable intellect, she doesn’t need to go to school, because she is much smarter than the teachers’. Perhaps she is. But she is also still a kid.”
“The truth is that only 15 per cent of coaching is about the mechanics of strokeplay,” added Betton. “There’s a lot of quiet guidance and support and mentoring that goes into the job. Sometimes it’s about coaxing stuff out from your player at dinner after a match. You’re asking questions like ‘What could you have done better on that point?’ Or ‘What other options did you have in that moment?’ Or ‘If that was a 10 out of 10 , what would an 11 look like?’”
The Raducanu family’s unconventional approach has produced extraordinary success to date. Even if we look beyond the impossible feats of 2021, she still stands at No 56 in the points tally for 2022 alone – which places her behind her contemporary and fellow US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez (29), but in the same ballpark as two other talented 19-year-olds: Qinwen Zheng (60) and Clara Tauson (61).
As that “source close to the family” put it last week: “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.”
In Paris from Sunday, Raducanu will have a larger entourage than at recent events, probably including agent Chris Helliar, physio Will Herbert, hitting partner Raymond Sarmiento and LTA head of women’s tennis Iain Bates. Perhaps Cayer might put in an appearance as well.
So while there will be no specific “coach” as such, Raducanu clearly believes that she can get by without one. And – for this tournament, at least – she won’t be short of moral support. Judging by what we have seen so far, her unorthodox instincts have a way of delivering spectacular results.