“It’s inner belief and just taking care of each day…” – Emma Raducanu
In 2021, 18-year-old tennis star Emma Raducanu became the first ever player to win a Grand Slam title as a qualifier. It was an achievement that put her into the history books, but her US Open win also made her the first British woman to win a Grand Slam since 1977, and suddenly sponsors of every description were clambering to get a piece of her.
Just a few months before her victory, Emma had burst onto the scene and into the public eye as a wildcard player at Wimbledon. She made it to the fourth round before medical issues forced her to retire mid match – issues that caused some to doubt whether she had the mental strength to cope with the pressure of performing at top level.
No Room for Self-Doubt
Emma described her exit from Wimbledon as heart-breaking at the time, but her phenomenal success in the US Open proved 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.”
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 undoubtedly added extra pressure to every game that followed. Since her 2021 win, expectations have been high, and she has become the brand ambassador for nine different companies, including everything from Nike and Evian to HSBC and Tiffany. Many of the commercial contracts she has are in place for up to five years, but after her US Open success, Ian Bates, head of women’s tennis at LTA, made an important point when he said,
“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.”
As Wimbledon 2022 gets underway, Emma returns to the court as the UK’s No.1 seed, but having won just eight matches out of 19 played, and having to deal with a string of niggling injuries, she has not had a strong year since her US Open win. Ian Bates’ words now ring true, and Emma clearly does need time to physically develop and strengthen as a player, but what about mentally?
After winning the US Open, 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.”
Her 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 and subsequent challenges have been used to help her do better. The result of one match does not define an entire career; Emma knows this. She knows that success in one season does not guarantee success in the next, but every match outcome, win or lose, brings valuable lessons that will promote her growth as a player.
However, with commercial contracts rolling in that are worth tens of millions of pounds, questions have been raised over whether outside interests may be distracting Emma from her tennis. Her agent acknowledges that Emma’s US win sparked huge interest in her from the corporate world, but he doesn’t believe it will affect her focus. Having guided tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Li Na through their careers, he’s confident that the demands of tennis and those of sponsors can be managed. His tried-and-tested approach is to limit the number of days available to sponsors, and Emma has decided for herself that photo shoots should be limited to afternoons and evenings on those days so that she will always have the mornings to concentrate on her game.
Inspirational Role Model
Now an inspirational role model to many young tennis players and anyone aspiring to achieve their own goals in life, Emma features on many posters. On one, her name is signed under the words: Play hard. Train harder. Play only to win. She plays to win, but she knows that losing is not ‘game over’. In her first match after her astounding US Open win, she lost, but her mental strength shone through as she said,
“You’re going to have highs and you’re always going to have some lows where you’re disappointed with how you performed… For the bigger picture, I’ll be thanking this moment. That’s the lesson I think. You can easily get sucked into being so focused on the result and getting disappointed… I mean, I’m 18 years old. I need to cut myself some slack.”
We should all adopt this positive mental attitude and remember to cut ourselves some slack when facing setbacks. Things don’t always go to plan, but setbacks and disappointments can be important lessons that you will be thankful for as you use them to do better next time. Like Emma, choose to keep believing, and keep taking one day at a time.
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