Emma Raducanu has long road ahead despite glimmers of genius at Wimbledon | Tumaini Carayol

Estimated read time 5 min read

As Emma Raducanu became increasingly overwhelmed under the relentless pressure imposed on her by the cold-blooded qualifier Lulu Sun in their three-set tussle on Sunday, it became clear her time at Wimbledon was at an end. An intense, breathless service game at 2-4 in set three finished with a tired double fault from Raducanu and, minutes later, her opponent closed out the match to reach the quarter-finals of Wimbledon for the first time.

A massive opportunity missed, Raducanu left Centre Court appropriately frustrated. Still, her run to the fourth round of Wimbledon represents a massive step forward after nearly three years in the wilderness in the aftermath of her US Open triumph.

While her performance at Wimbledon has been strong in itself, it has been even more impressive to see Raducanu string a series of solid results together at the top level of the sport for the first time in her career. In her last six events, Raducanu has led Great Britain to a brilliant win over France on clay, which she followed up with a quarter-final run at Stuttgart. After a poor first-round loss in Madrid and a controversial decision to skip the final weeks of the clay court season, her fourth-round run at Wimbledon was preceded by a semi-final at Nottingham and a quarter-final at Eastbourne.

Having not faced a top 10 opponent in her US Open run, she has now beaten elite opposition in consecutive weeks and in totally different ways. After saving a match point to defeat the world No 5 Jessica Pegula in Eastbourne, Raducanu outclassed the No 9 Maria Sakkari to emphatically return to the fourth round of a grand slam tournament for the first time in three years. She has played brave, attacking tennis, taking the ball early, trying to impose herself with her forehand and tearing her opponents’ second serves apart.

Even the best tennis players in the world struggle with doubt and the past few years have provided Raducanu with plenty of reasons to question herself. Beyond showing the world that she is still here, still capable of playing quality tennis and beating top opposition, it has surely been rewarding for Raducanu to show that she can tussle with the best players in the world.

Still, Raducanu’s recent losses have also illustrated how far she has to go. In Eastbourne, a day after her win over Pegula, Raducanu failed to deal with the difficult, windy conditions and was completely picked apart by Daria Kasatkina. After playing with freedom against Sakkari, she was flat and tight with a significant opportunity on the line against Sun.

Raducanu (right) clasps hands with Lulu Sun at the netView image in fullscreen

When the conditions and circumstances are in her favour Raducanu thrives, but she is still learning how to perform when things are not entirely going well for her. Raducanu revealed after her loss to Sun that, in addition to her stiff wrist, she was managing a sore back. She also noted that she had rarely played or trained against lefty players. Many players are managing physical ailments as they approach the second week of grand slam competition; the best players learn to find a way through regardless.

As many of her peers prepare for the Olympics, Raducanu has made the decision to head to the United States early and begin her North American hard-court swing in Washington DC The next challenge will be to continue her progress week after week, learning how to win in spite of the conditions or how she feels on the court.

Despite Raducanu’s return to the top 100, her tournament ended on a sour note following her decision to withdraw from her scheduled mixed doubles match alongside Andy Murray in what was supposed to be the 37-year-old’s final appearance at Wimbledon. A significant amount of fuel was added to the flames following a tweet from Judy Murray, Andy’s mother, who described Raducanu’s retirement as “astonishing”. A day later, after hours of criticism and arguments across social media, Judy Murray said that her tweet was merely sarcasm.

Beyond the raging discourse, the ill-fated end to the proposed Murray-Raducanu partnership was fairly predictable. Since she has emerged on the tour, Raducanu has rarely gone a couple of weeks without suffering some sort of physical ailment and she is one of the most injury-prone players around. She has also played doubles just once in her entire time on the professional circuit. It was always clear that she would prioritise her singles play and her body if she felt any physical issues.

After Raducanu’s withdrawal, Murray was said to be deeply disappointed as his hopes of playing at Wimbledon one more time were taken away from him. But there are many more dependable and capable doubles partners he could have chosen from to ensure that he made it to the court.

Regardless, Murray will be fine. He already enjoyed an appropriate, emotional farewell alongside his brother last week and he will have yet another opportunity to say goodbye when he competes in the Olympics at the end of July.

Source: theguardian.com

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