“It’s inner belief and just taking care of each day…” – Emma Raducanu
At the age of 18, tennis star Emma Raducanu has become the first-ever player to win a Grand Slam title as a qualifier, having played her way into the tournament through qualifying rounds. This alone puts her into the history books, but her US Open win also makes her the first British woman to win a Grand Slam since 1977 – the year Virginia Wade won Wimbledon.
These stats are impressive, but her win is made all the more incredible by the fact that just a couple of months earlier, Emma was forced to retire in her fourth-round match at Wimbledon due to medical issues – issues that caused many to doubt whether she had the mental strength to cope with the pressure of performing at top level.
Emma has described her exit from Wimbledon as heart-breaking, but her phenomenal success in the US Open has clearly proven all of her doubters wrong. She says,
“I took away (from Wimbledon) that it was for me more of a physical issue. To win a Grand Slam you need a lot of mental strength, so I think the resilience part of it sort of speaks for itself… I needed to go through all of that to win a Slam. Physically I’ve still got a lot of work to do because I’m still new to the game and haven’t had time to really develop.”
Her belief is backed up by her US Open coach Andrew Richardson. He says of Emma,
“For me, the biggest strength she has is the mind. I think everything starts with the mind. The strength and resilience she has shown, and her ability to deal with adversity and compete, this is where it all starts. I’ve known her from a young age, and she’s always had that. The mental strength she has is truly special.”
Emma understands that both physical and mental preparation are needed to achieve a top performance, and her leap from 150th to 23rd in the world rankings will undoubtedly add pressure to every game she plays. Expectations for next year are high, but Iain Bates, head of women’s tennis at LTA, makes an important point when he says,
“There has to be a degree of perspective in that Emma’s not yet played a full year on tour. She needs to do so many other things around getting used to tour life, and learning how to play and compete and win, week in week out… we might need to give her some time to find her feet and develop into a player who hopefully we can watch for many years.”
Former tennis champion Sue Barker echoes the above. She says,
“Things are going to change forever now. Suddenly expectation is going to come. Everyone is going to think she’s going to do it again and play that way every time. She’s got loads of time. She’s got a huge future. We have to calm down and let her grow as a player.”
In a post-win interview, Emma’s message to young players aspiring to achieve their own success was:
“It’s inner belief and just taking care of each day as best as possible, because 10 matches ago, when I was playing my first-round qualifiers, I did not think I’d be in the US Open final – or winning it.”
Emma’s self-belief is evident, but so is her ability to focus on the here and now and take each day as it comes, focusing on one match at a time. Her experience of “failure” at Wimbledon has been used to help her do better. The result of one match does not define an entire career; Emma knows this. Her success does not guarantee success in her next match, but every outcome, win or lose, brings valuable lessons that will promote her growth as a player, allowing her to achieve her true potential.
Emma’s belief in her ability to succeed is her own, not just that of family, coaches, and others around her. As her dad said in his post-victory message to her:
“You’re even better than your dad thought.”
Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach