As Emma Raducanu completes her preparations before returning to competition in her first professional tournament on Romanian soil in Cluj-Napoca, she has stressed the need for patience with her career as she continues to grow into top-level tennis, despite her early success.
“I skipped a bunch of buildup levels and buildup stages where you normally work your way in, play your way into the game,” she said. “I basically went from the $25ks to playing Masters, (WTA) 500s and 250s. I just need to be patient with myself, not expect too much, and I am learning to accept it is not so smooth. Just bounce back positively.”
When she faces Polona Hercog of Slovenia at the Transylvania Open in a match scheduled for not before 6pm on Tuesday evening, it will be only Raducanu’s sixth career tour-level event – she is still looking for her first WTA tour win. “Patience is key. Because, as I said, there are a lot of lows, where you learn about your game. You adjust to each level gradually. I kind of went from zero to the top of the game! So, it’s obviously going to take some time to adjust and adapt but hopefully, with some good work, I will be able to do that.”
Such perspective is shared by the top seed, Simona Halep, one of Raducanu’s idols, who has been forthcoming with her compliments towards Raducanu since her US Open title and believes that “she is able to achieve everything”. Having navigated a career that has required her to learn the correct lessons from some truly devastating losses, few are better placed to appreciate the turbulence of the sport.
“Even if she is so young I think she feels the pressure. It’s normal, everybody does,” she said, before addressing the group of British journalists. “You guys better enjoy her results, tennis, the way she is. She is super nice and waiting for her to grow up a little bit in this level because she just jumped now. She did something great and probably, it’s just my opinion, she will need some time to see how it is every week to be there. And then she will become stronger. Much stronger.”
As her fame grows, Raducanu will also have to adjust to how others respond to her. As Aliaksandra Sasnovich showed at Indian Wells by producing such a clean, efficient match to beat her, facing her is now an event. Her opponents across the net will look towards her as a possible win over a grand slam champion rather than an inexperienced 18-year-old. They will, at times, bring their best level.
The off-court adjustments are also already clear. Her decision not to continue her temporary coaching arrangement with Andrew Richardson, for example, became a far bigger story than she surely would have hoped, and she now speaks cautiously about the topic in interviews. There are already a growing number of unnecessary opinions to ignore, most recently from the 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta.
“In my day it could never have happened that a girl who started from qualifying, like Emma Raducanu in New York, won a Grand Slam,” she said to Corriere Della Sera. “The top athletes made too much difference. There is something wrong. Charisma is missing, so women’s tennis is more difficult to sell.” Pennetta’s sole grand slam title, it should be noted, was clinched against Roberta Vinci in a match watched by 1.6 million people in the US compared to this year’s audience of 2.44 million for Raducanu v Leylah Fernandez.
At the BTArena on Monday, the main draw began a day after a group of Romanian players and Raducanu gave the crowd an emotional farewell before new Covid-19 restrictions came into effect. Gone were the spectators who had been transfixed by a mere practice match between Raducanu and Elena-Gabriela Ruse, as was the man who sauntered around the grounds with a cape and his face painted a deathly white, and who reflected the amount of effort that has clearly gone into the Transylvania Open, which has even marketed itself with ample well-done Dracula references.
The banning of spectators is a significant blow to the tournament, but life goes on. For Raducanu, even though she would have wished to compete in front of a warm Romanian crowd, this is not a bad place to be. After all, playing in the silence of a tennis court with no spectators, as has been the case for most of her career, may be the most familiar sensation she has experienced in a match for some time.