It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged: Your life will not be the same after you win the U.S. Open as a little-known qualifier at age 18.
Emma Raducanu has noticed the changes: a hitting session with the Duchess of Cambridge and red-carpet appearances at the Met Gala and at the premiere of the new James Bond film “No Time to Die” at Royal Albert Hall in London.
There are more funds in her bank account (and plenty more on the way). There are wide-eyed looks from people she meets day to day.
But not everything has been transformed.
“My parents didn’t make a big deal out of it at all,” Raducanu said when we spoke this week. “When I’ve been at home, everything has felt really normal. The Bond premiere, playing tennis with the Duchess and the Gala, I love those experiences, but at the same time I mean when I got back onto the training court, it was like this is where I really wanted to be.”
Raducanu will be back on a stadium court on Friday night as she makes her return to competition in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., against a tough opponent in Aliaksandra Sasnovich, an unseeded 27-year-old Belarusian once ranked in the top 30. It will be Raducanu’s debut at Indian Wells and her first match since her fact-beats-fiction run in New York, where on Sept. 12 she became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title.
More remarkable still, she did not lose a set in 10 matches, proving impervious to the pressure as she limited her social-media use off court and stuck with her aggressive game plan on court by attacking returns and groundstrokes and hitting serves on the lines.
Raducanu plays quietly with no grunts, few shouts and smooth footwork. But her shots are explosive, and she now has much of the world’s attention after playing in just two Grand Slam tournaments. She is also without a coach after splitting with Andrew Richardson, who was on a short-term contract when she won the Open.
“I feel the good thing is I’ve still got so much room to improve, and I won a Grand Slam,” she said. “It hasn’t really sunk in. I don’t know if it ever will, but I feel like now instead of feeling I’ve got a lot of pressure I feel like free, like loose. Because you play tennis to win a Grand Slam, and I won a Grand Slam so now it’s just a bonus.”
Raducanu has a point. Talented players, like the third-ranked Karolina Pliskova, 29, who became an elite professional player in her teens, are still chasing a first major title. That quest brings its own pressures, but quick and unexpected success comes with its own set of challenges.
Max Eisenbud, Raducanu’s agent, was also Maria Sharapova’s agent when she became a global star in 2004 by winning Wimbledon at age 17.
“The difference between Maria winning Wimbledon and Emma winning the U.S. Open really comes down to social media,” Eisenbud said. “There was no social media in ’04. The social media just made things move so fast this time. It’s just in warp speed.”
The response to Raducanu’s victory, be it from the Queen of England or Chinese officials, was global, immediate and quantifiable. Raducanu had about 10,000 Instagram followers in June. She had more than two million after winning the U.S. Open.
“Yeah, I know, it’s crazy,” Raducanu said, sounding sheepish. “It doesn’t feel real numbers, but I’m happy and really grateful that anyone wants to actually, like, follow me. I don’t think I’m that interesting, but it’s pretty cool.”
Sponsors certainly find her intriguing. Shortly after her victory in New York, she became a global ambassador for Tiffany & Company, the luxury jewelry brand, but Eisenbud said the deal was agreed to before the Open, after her surprise run to the fourth round of Wimbledon in July.
Her stock has now soared rather higher. “The iron’s hot,” Eisenbud said. “We’re striking.”
Raducanu is hardly the first young player to win a Grand Slam tournament in this egalitarian era in women’s tennis. Jelena Ostapenko and Naomi Osaka were 20 when they won their first majors. Bianca Andreescu was 19 when she won the 2019 U.S. Open, and she won it, like Raducanu, in her main-draw debut in New York.
Andreescu, a Canadian, has played little since that victory because of injuries and is now ranked 21st as she returns to Indian Wells to defend the title she won in 2019.
Andreescu was asked this week what advice she would give to teenagers like Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, the Canadian 19-year-old whom Raducanu beat in that highly unlikely Open final.
“The advice I would give is always to remain grateful even if you are having the hugest success, because it can all be taken away from you in a split second,” Andreescu said. “I feel I didn’t savor it as much.” She added, “Just stay humble, remain grateful and continue to work hard because everyone says at least in my experience it’s easy to get to the top but staying at the top is what is the hardest part.”
There is no shortage of candidates for the top in women’s tennis, where 14 different players have won major singles titles in the last five seasons. But as a Canadian-born Briton with a mother from China and a father from Romania, Raducanu seems well equipped for global stardom.
Eisenbud, who also represents the retired Chinese tennis star Li Na, understands the commercial opportunities for an athlete able to communicate with the Chinese public. Raducanu recorded a video message in Mandarin after winning in New York and recorded another message in Romanian ahead of her scheduled appearance at the Transylvanian Open later this month.
Raducanu, who does not consider herself fully fluent in either language, said she often speaks Mandarin with her mother. “I’d say it’s like 50-50,” she said. “Just because sometimes it’s like secret language, and it’s actually very helpful.”
She said she does not speak Romanian with her father. “But I have to speak Romanian with my grandma, because she doesn’t speak any English,” Raducanu said.
Unlike many tennis stars, who are often home-schooled from an early age, Raducanu attended high school in Britain, completing her final exams this summer before embarking on a full-time professional career.
“I hope that part of the story can get out there,” Eisenbud said. “Because there are so many families out there who are taking their kids out of normal school and being home-schooled that have no chance to play pro tennis, and I think it’s pretty sad. It’s everywhere you turn, and I think kids being home-schooled, you lose a lot of the social aspects and all these other things.”
Raducanu certainly has an opportunity to influence her peers. While Coco Gauff, the 17-year-old American player, and Osaka have used their platforms to speak out on social justice, Raducanu told me she is more interested at this stage in promoting an active lifestyle than in political activism.
“I’m really passionate about helping younger kids get into sport, especially young girls, because I think sport taught me so much and gave me amazing opportunities,” she said. “The confidence I have now, I don’t think I would have if I didn’t play sport.”
She recognizes that she and her family are an immigrant success story at a time when immigration is being curtailed in Britain and other developed nations. But she does not want to be a spokesperson on such an issue at this stage.
“I think that’s for a later time,” she said. “I feel I’m still quite young. I just want to focus on the things I really feel a strong connection with as of now, but maybe when I grow older, then I’ll develop more different insights.”
As of now, her development as a tennis player is simply astounding. She needed a wild card to get into the Indian Wells tournament because the date of entry came before the U.S. Open. Her ranking was too low at that stage, but so much has changed so quickly. She is seeded 17th and will make her debut on the main stadium court as a night session headliner.
“That’s crazy, because I was just scraping the qualifying acceptance list,” she said with a laugh. “And to be seeded I just can’t believe it. I never thought my ranking would be this high so soon. It’s just an amazing thing to see, and I’m really proud of myself.”