To most of the UK, Emma Raducanu is an emerging young tennis star. But to one 14-year-old prodigious talent, she has been an inspiration for years.
Lois Newberry, an elite player in her age group who trains at the south-east London centre that Raducanu used while growing up, has looked up to the new hero of British tennis since she was a child and has practised alongside her. She said Raducanu’s recent successes at age 18 had shown her youth was no barrier to greatness.
“It definitely shows me it is possible to be young and still achieve so much,” she told the Guardian.
Lois’s mother, Katherine, said: “Emma has always been an amazing role model and inspiration to her. When Lois was in year 6, she was asked to write a piece on somebody famous and somebody who really inspired her. All the girls were doing politicians. She wrote about Emma Raducanu.
“She’s such a nice girl, Emma, as well – she’s very down to earth. And she’s always been willing to help the girls. Lois has practised with her, she’s been on the next court, everything, so it’s been great to see.
“Even this week, when we’ve been watching her matches, Lois has been going to her coaches and saying: ‘I want to return serve like Emma.’”
Raducanu has reached the semi-finals of the US Open on her debut appearance. She is only the fourth women’s singles qualifier to reach the semi-final at any grand slam, as well as being the youngest US Open semi-finalist of the last 15 years.
All of that followed her breakthrough appearance at this summer’s Wimbledon championships – her first slam appearance – achieved shortly after taking her A-levels.
Newberry’s coach, Josh Brown, said he hoped Raducanu’s passage from relative unknown to a spot on Court One for a last 16 tie at that tournament had already inspired young girls to think about the sport.
“It’s really refreshing to see someone not only British, but also so young, because it’s such a difficult sport to get into and it’sso difficult to have that top-level success. I remember seeing Raducanu play when she was 14 years old, and she was always good.
“It’s just inspired girls to make them feel like they can do it. I think that’s probably the strongest message Emma has given to these girls. I suppose it’s probably a little bit too early to say we’re getting more interest, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a couple of months’ time, we started seeing more and more girls get involved.”
Brown said Raducanu’s inspirational success was already having an effect on his coaching. “With Lois, specifically, Emma was always her favourite player. And I think it’s quite nice to use Emma as a reference point for Lois.
“I was told a story this morning about how Emma’s nutritionist is currently sending her food plans while she’s out in the US and I’ve managed to find out what she’s eating and it’s great.”
Nutrition was just one of the elements Dr Chris Harwood, a professor of sport psychology at Loughborough University, identified as being important to Raducanu’s preparation for a match as big as the US Open semi-final. He said the key would be to maintain the same routine on Friday as every other match.
Raducanu and her team would have focused on making sure the day before the match followed the same pattern: that she built in time to analyse her opponent and her own recent performances so she could practise and that she had proper recovery time, he said.
“Probably the most important thing, if you’re talking about someone who’s fairly well prepared mentally and has a good support team around them, is trying to keep to the same routine,” said Harwood.
“There’s going to be an understandable sense of excitement and anticipation that anyone would feel before the start of an event and that’s sometimes where the nerves come from; not necessarily a place of fear, but actually a place of excitement to getting started.”
Analysing Raducanu’s game, Newberry identified her greatest strength as that return of serve she admires so much, and described her idol as an aggressive player.
“She’s done a lot of this in the US Open. If she gets broken on her serve, she can come back so strongly with her returns and she can always just commit to them, whether she’s down or up in the game. And her court position is very much inside of the court, so she’s very good at taking time away from her opponent.”
Brown added: “Emma has developed a strong identity as she’s got older, which is unique in someone so young. Her return of serve seems to be not only consistent, but also effective. If you look at her game as a whole, I can’t really see a weakness.”