The remarkable rise of Emma Raducanu
• 6 MINUTE READ
While she may have only become a household name over the past few months, this moment has been a long time in the making, dating back to when she first picked up a racket as a young child.
Emma Raducanu has burst on the British and global sporting scene this year, enjoying a meteoric rise into the public’s consciousness in a way few people have ever done before.
Such prominence has been earned off the back of a string of superlative performances, rewriting the record books in her first two Grand Slams – coming through qualifying to become Britain's first women's singles major title winner for 44 years at the 2021 US Open. To have achieved that, a run of ten wins, without even dropping a set is beyond remarkable.
While she may have only become a household name over the past few months, this moment has been a long time in the making, dating back to when she first picked up a racket as a young child.
A title that has been more than a decade in the making
What has followed has been years of hard work honing her shots on the practice courts of Bromley, working her way through the age groups and regularly testing herself in LTA national and then international competitions. More recently she became part of the LTA Pro-Scholarship Programme and was selected by the LTA to be part of Great Britain junior teams – graduating last year to join the Billie Jean King Cup squad under captain Anne Keothavong.
For those who have kept a close eye on her development, the name Emma Raducanu is one that has been talked about as an exciting prospect within British tennis for the last decade. However, while it had long been hoped that Raducanu could one day go far in the game, in the words of Keothavong ahead of her semi-final in New York this week, no one could have dreamt that the young player from Bromley in Kent would be quite this good, this soon…
Here we chart the tennis journey of Emma Raducanu that has led to her ripping up the record books in New York winning this year’s US Open title en route to becoming Great Britain’s new women’s no.1 and new global sporting superstar…
- The early years...
- Age 6 – The beginning of winning ways…
- Age 7 – Regional titles and a debut national appearance
- Age 8 – Near misses on the national stage
- Age 9 – A first national junior title!
- Age 10 – First taste of international success
- Age 11 – More international titles & a GB call up
- Age 12 – Fifth in Florida Orange Bowl & first match at Wimbledon
- Age 13 – A first junior ITF title!
- Age 14 – Junior Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon, and meeting an icon
- Age 15 – Becoming British junior No.1 and a senior international title
- Age 16 – Joining the LTA’s Pro-Scholarship Programme
- Age 17 – A first Billie Jean King Cup call up and navigating the pandemic
- Age 18 – A* pupil & superstar tennis player
Born in Toronto in 2002 to a Chinese mother and Romanian father, Raducanu moved over to England when she was just two years old. The family settled in Bromley, Kent, where the tennis centre would soon become a second home for her. Her parents both have academic backgrounds, her father Ion and her mother Renee both working in finance and it is from them whom she says her mental strength, which has been so evident on court in New York, is inherited.
As a child, Raducanu spent many of her holidays visiting her grandparents in Romania, taking the chance to play in tennis tournaments. It is a trip she still likes to make today, and she enjoys visiting her mamaia (granny), who still lives in central Bucharest – going back a couple of times a year to stay with her and enjoy her ‘unbelievable’ food.
It was at Bromley Tennis Centre where Raducanu first started playing tennis regularly – and at the age of 6 she was listed on their role of honour having won the Under 8’s Girls Championships.
By the age of 7, Raducanu was a regular on the circuit of local and regional LTA competitions across the south of England, and the habit of lifting trophies continued.
After winning a 9 & Under junior open event at Sundridge Park in Kent in July, Raducanu would go on to claim the Kent County Closed Junior Championships 2010 9 & Under girls singles title the following month.
October would see her claim her first LTA regional title, coming through qualifying to win the 9 & Under Girls Singles at the LTA Winter Regional Tournament in Beckenham without dropping a set.
That was then followed with a debut appearance at national level, losing in the quarter-finals of the LTA Winter National tournament at the White Horse Tennis Centre in Oxfordshire to eventual winner of the 9 & Under singles Esther Adeshina, before going on to win the consolation draw, defeating Indianna Spink..
Not everything was to go the way of the talented youngster in her early years on court, and 2011 would provide plenty of learning opportunities. Raducanu began the year with further successive defeats to Adeshina in LTA Winter National Tournaments in both Gosling and Bolton, as well as then in the quarter-finals of the Winter National Finals at the National Tennis Centre.
The young Kent player however, continued to pick up local and regional titles around the country, including winning the Scottish Junior Open title and then the Bournemouth Open with a memorable match en route the final demonstrating the gritty determination she is now famous for, coming from a set down to defeat Spink 18-16 in a mammoth third set.
Raducanu’s fine form continued as she reached the final of the 9 & Under 2011 LTA British National Championships at the National Tennis Centre, but she would again miss out on a national crown, finishing runner-up to Sonay Kartal.
In between competitions, Raducanu continued to work hard on her game. Pictured below in the front row attending an Under 9 Orange ball LTA regional training camp at Bromley, she is remembered as being a young player who was always talented, hard working, polite and open to feedback.
Raducanu would not have to wait too long however to claim her first title at national level, coming from a set down to win the LTA Winter National event at Graves Tennis Centre in Yorkshire in February.
Raducanu then reached the semi-finals of the LTA 10 & Under Clay Court Tournament in June, losing a tight match to Spink.
At a regional level, Raducanu continued to compete above her age, rounding off 2012 by winning the Kent County title shortly after her 10th birthday.
Raducanu then claimed the Winter National Tour 10 & Under event at Cambridge in February, but further defeats to Adeshina, a year older than Raducanu, followed in the last 16 of the 12 & Under LTA Clay Court Tournament in May and then in the semi-final of the 12 & Under LTA Winter National tour event in Bath in November.
This was the year however when Raducanu started to make her mark at an international level, winning a Tennis Europe 11 & Under event in Bressuire, defeating France’s Salma Djoubri.
March would see Raducanu come from a set down against Kartal to claim victory in the 12 & Under LTA National Winter Tour Finals at the NTC in March. She then finished as runner-up to Spink in the final of the 12 & Under LTA Clay Court Tennis Championships in May, with the pair teaming up to claim the doubles title.
Completing her domestic summer, Raducanu finished as runner up to Kartal at the 12 & Under National Championships at the West Hants Club in August, featured in the footage below. Raducanu would then claim the 14 & Under title at Sundridge Park, and finished as runner-up in the Kent County Closed 14 & Under singles and Open mixed doubles.
Continuing to compete on the international stage, Raducanu was already demonstrating some impressive shots on the court, as well as giving the young player a chance to get used to being interviewed in front of the cameras, as this clip from the 2014 12 & Under Braga Open in Portugal shows ahead of her going on to win the title:
Alongside her individual success, Raducanu was also selected by the LTA to be part of the Great Britain team at the 2014 12 & Under Winter European Cup, alongside Lillian Mould and Indianna Spink. Raducanu won 10 out of her 12 singles and doubles matches at the event to help Great Britain win a bronze medal with a 2-1 victory over Italy – having only narrowly lost out to eventual winners Czech Republic in the semi-final.
Age 12 – Fifth in Florida Orange Bowl & first match at Wimbledon
Raducanu continued to excel against international opposition, and would finish 2014 with a magnificent performance at the famed Orange Bowl event in Miami, winning 10 matches in a row to finish fifth in the 12 & Under category.
Now competing regularly both domestically and around the world, when not travelling Raducanu could still be found working hard on the courts at Bromley with her then coach Alastair Filmer to develop her technique.
That hard work was paying dividends, with the 12-year-old returning from the Compete Open Tennis Festival in Bath with both the 14 & Under and 16 & Under trophies, as well as claiming the title at the Tennis Europe 14 & Under tournament in Zoetermeer.
Alongside the Orange Bowl performance, one of the highlights for Raducanu in 2015 was the chance to play at Wimbledon, winning through the South East regional qualifiers to earn a place in in the Road to Wimbledon national finals on the famous grass courts of the All England Club – an achievement that started to gain her attention in the local media.
By this stage Raducanu was firmly established as one of the best players in her age group and regularly attended LTA national junior camps at the National Tennis Centre – including on one camp in October enjoying the chance to throw water balloons at the then Billie Jean King Cup captain, Judy Murray!
Another breakthrough year for Raducanu started with a bang. She marked her 13th birthday with the first of two back to back singles titles, winning the 14 & Under Tennis Europe event in Roehampton without dropping a set as well as the doubles.
Despite being an unseeded wildcard, she then went on to defeat fellow Brit and no.1 seed Lauryn John Baptiste in the final of the Nike Junior International in Liverpool the week she became 13, the earliest age allowed to compete – becoming one of the youngest ever winners of an U18 ITF event.
Back at Bromley, some of the strokes that would later help take her to the US Open final continued to be perfected, with these videos showing the 13 year old working on her serve, drive volley and backhand with her coach. Also training at Bromley for fellow GB rising star Anton Matusevich the 14 & Under boys Orange Bowl runner up, and the young Raducanu took the chance to spar with him under the guidance of their coach.
Further success on the continent continued to come. She started the year off with an appearance in the doubles final in Tarbes, which she followed by claiming a Czech Grade title in May and then selection for the LTA’s GB team at the European Championships in the Czech Republic in July.
Age 14 - Junior Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon, and meeting an icon
One of the standout aspects of Raducanu’s run to the final at the US Open has been her outstanding returning – an aspect of her game she has put in years of work to develop. That, together with the other range of shots in her repertoire and the faster, lower movement around the court that has also been so evident this week in New York, would see her improve on her previous fifth place in Miami to finish third in 2016 Orange Bowl 14U category.
Despite being just 14, Raducanu was selected to be part of the LTA Great Britain team to take on the USA in the 2017 Maureen Connolly Cup in Southsea – an annual competition between the top four girls aged 18 and under from United States and Great Britain. Raducanu won one of her matches, defeating Sofia Sewing before losing on a tie-break to Taylor Johnson.
The GB team was captained by the LTA’s Jane O’Donoghue, alongside Billie Jean King Cup Captain Anne Keothavong.
Raducanu was a regular member of Great Britain junior teams and camps throughout her junior career, and once again pulled on her country's colours at the Northumberland Club later in the year for an LTA Summer Camp.
Pictured to Raducanu's right is the LTA's Women's National Coach, Katie O'Brien, and it is one of a number of memories she fondly recalls: "I did play on same team as Emma in National Club League for David Lloyd Raynes Park when she was 13 just once and it was quite an experience. It got down to a tiebreak final set, the three of us were playing not to lose and there was Emma playing to win!
"Emma was good then, but by no means a world beater like she is now!"
"When I first joined the LTA four years ago, I went with the U16 Summer Cup team in Newcastle - the team was Emma, Holly Fischer and Gemma Heath. Emma was good then, but by no means a world beater like she is now!"
Summer would bring another opportunity to get out and practice her grass court game, ahead of her return to SW19 for her junior Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon.
That opportunity proved to be an early example of the inspirational impact Raducanu can have on others – creating excitement among her fellow young players back at Bromley Tennis Centre – but it also gave her a chance to take inspiration from others as she got to meet one of the legends of the game, Roger Federer.
Age 15 – Becoming British junior No.1 and a senior international title
Her run to the 2021 US Open Final has seen Raducanu play in what is the biggest tennis arena in the world, the Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows, but she had experience playing in front of big crowds from a young age – including the Royal Albert Hall at the end of 2017 as part of the Champions Tennis event to showcase the Sports Aid charity.
Raducanu then smashed her way into 2018, winning the ITF Junior Tennis Grade 3 event in Chandigarh, India without dropping a set, and following it up with a second ITF Junior Tennis title a week later in New Dehli.
Those wins were part of a 20 match win streak at the start of 2018, that saw her pick up four junior titles (adding the Siauliai Open in Lithuania and the Biotehnos Cup in Moldova to her two titles from India), and breaking into the junior top 50 world rankings for the first time – progress which also saw her become the British junior No.1 in February.
Increasingly a regular winner on the junior international circuit, Raducanu together with her father, took the decision to step up from the juniors and make her ITF Pro Circuit debut at an event in China. Though she fell in the final qualifying round at her first attempt, she swiftly followed that up at a tournament the next week to reach the main draw of an ITF $15K tournament in Nanjing.
It didn’t take long before the 15-year-old wasn’t just competing on the pro-circuit, but winning titles. She won her first ITF $15k title at an event in Israel in May 2018 – in 45 degree heat without dropping a set to become the youngest player that year to reach an ITF final.
A report of the tournament picks her out as a future star of women's tennis worldwide, remarking that even at that age she had already developed an extraordinarily strong serve.
That success in Israel saw Raducanu debut in the WTA world rankings on 28 May, at No.885 with 14 points, and begin an upward trajectory that will see her climb into the top 50 post the US Open.
Having stepped up to the senior ranks, Raducanu made her first attempt to qualify for the women’s singles at Wimbledon, losing out in three sets to eventual qualifier Barbora Stefkova in the first round.
Raducanu played in Junior Wimbledon once again, losing to eventual winner and future Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek in the quarter-finals, a player two years her senior. One particular noteworthy victory from that Wimbledon campaign for Raducanu however, was a second round straight sets win over the 11th seed, Canada’s Leylah Fernandez – the player she faced in Saturday’s US Open final.
Covering Raducanu’s performances at Junior Wimbledon for The Telegraph, Charles Eccleshare reported that “Her game is built around a heavy serve and thudding groundstrokes - against Garland yesterday she saved a break point with a sensational backhand that flew onto the sideline and sent chalk flying into the air. Raducanu’s power comes from impeccable timing and an imposing physique that belies her tender years.”
Raducanu then matched that Wimbledon run to reach the quarter-finals of the Junior US Open in 2018, defeating the number 14 seed Qinwen Zheng to become the first British female to make back to back junior Grand Slam quarterfinals since Annabel Croft in 1984.
Returning to the senior ranks, Raducanu added a second ITF $15K title in October, winning the GD Tennis Cup in Antalya, Turkey.
Age 16 – Joining the LTA’s Pro-Scholarship Programme
As a reflection of her talent and potential, the start of 2019 saw Raducanu join the LTA’s Pro-Scholarship Programme alongside fellow rising star Jack Draper – the highest level of support offered to developing players by the LTA. It is provided to players aged between 16 and 24 with the best chance of reaching the ATP/WTA top 100 singles within five years.
By this point she was already ranked inside the world’s top 700 in the WTA rankings. However, her rapid rise was to take a back seat for a short period as she took a decision to prioritise her academic studies ahead of taking her GCSE’s in May.
With exams completed, Raducanu once again entered Wimbledon qualifying, this time losing out to En-Shuo Liang in the first round to mean she would have to wait a little longer to make her Grand Slam main draw debut.
The year finished with the teenager being selected as a winner of the Amazon Prime Video Future Talent Award to provide further evidence of the increasing awareness of her potential.
Age 17 – A first Billie Jean King Cup call up and navigating the pandemic
In developing her game, Raducanu was working closely with LTA coach Matt James, aware that she still had things to work on...
Starting off as a 17-year-old however in the same fashion she had the year before, Raducanu claimed her first ITF $25k title in December 2019, winning in Pune, India. She came through qualifying to win the title, beating fellow Brit Naiktha Bains in the final, seeing her finish 2019 at 374 in the WTA world rankings.
Her continued progress was then rewarded with a call up from the LTA to join Anne Keothavong’s Billie Jean King Cup team for the first time for a tie against Slovakia in Bratislava in February, something the young Brit described as having been a huge honour to be part of.
Having been aware of Raducanu from an young age, Anne Keothavong has this week reflected on her early memories of Raducanu. saying: "I still remember the first time I clapped eyes on her she was only about 11 years of age and I was doing my LTA coaching course. I remember saying to another one of the coaches I’m going to have to go full out here against her she’s that good. Emma always had something special. She’s remained a very down to earth person and I hope it remains that way."
Retruning from national team duty, Raducanu then reached the final of an ITF $25k event staged by the LTA in Sunderland in February, before the pandemic brought a pause to her rapid rise in the rankings with her now at 338 in the world.
With the tours suspended, Raducanu took advantage of the behind closed doors events staged at the LTA’s National Tennis Centre in Roehampton under covid protocols. Competing for the British Bulldogs in the Battle of the Brits Team Tennis event, Raducanu became one of the stars of the event, with fans watching the coverage declaring her as a star of the future.
One standout moment saw Raducanu play alongside Joe Salisbury in a mixed doubles match to defeat Andy Murray and Jodie Burrage 4-6 6-4 10-8 to help the Bulldogs claim the title.
Raducanu excelled during the series of exhibition events, staged by the LTA to provide vital match practice for British players to help their development and prepare them for the resumption of the professional tours. After winning week 1 of the Premier British Tour event at the NTC, Raducanu then took the overall title.
With grassroots tennis seeing a surge in participation after courts reopened following lockdown, Raducanu and her LTA coach Matt James also took time out to share some tips on hitting an ace, supporting a charity initiative that saw BNP Paribas raise money for the LTA’s official charity, StreetGames:
The outstanding progress made by Raducanu ahead of the pandemic saw her named LTA Girl’s Player of the Year at the 2020 LTA Tennis Awards, following on from her 2019 win. She was also nominated by the LTA for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award, but missed out on the shortlist.
One additonal highlight for Raducanu during 2020 was the opportunity to train with some of the senior Great Britain players - including Andy Murray...
Raducanu would end 2020 with a run of success. She claimed the LTA British Tour Masters title at the National Tennis Centre in December, before then competiting in the Battle of the Brits Premier League of Tennis event, beating fellow Brits Eden Silva and Katy Dunne in straight sets, before eventually losing in three sets to British No.2 Heather Watson.
Age 18 – A* pupil & superstar tennis player
Despite all her achievements to date, 2021 would prove to be a year like no other for Raducanu. After taking some time out to focus on her A Levels, she returned to action in a successful but what now seems like relatively low key fashion in winning the British Tour title at Felixstowe in May.
With the advent of the grass court season, Raducanu received a wild card from the LTA to make her WTA Tour main draw at the Viking Open in Nottingham, falling to Harriet Dart. Just a few weeks later however Raducanu would be a household name, receiving a wild card to finally make her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon.
She reached the fourth round at SW19, becoming the youngest British woman to progress to the last 16 of The Championships in the Open Era, and played in a manner that won the hearts of the sporting nation – to the extent that she was sharing front pages with England’s footballers - with mutual support for each other...
Having gained outstanding A Level results - an A* in Maths and an A in Economics - Raducanu then headed to the hard courts of America, reaching the final of a WTA 125 tournament in Chicago where she lost out to Denmark's Clara Tauson.
Arriving in New York, she then backed up her Wimbledon performance with an historic run at the US Open, becoming the only player, female or male, to ever come through qualifiers to reach and win a Grand Slam final. She defeated fellow teenage star Leylah Fernandez in straight sets to lift the title on an unbelievable night in New York.
She has set a host of other records on the way, and in the process has risen up the rankings – she will break into the world’s top 50 and will become only the 22nd woman to hold the GB no.1 spot in the WTA rankings when they are updated after the US Open on Monday.
While out in New York, Raducanu has been supported by LTA Head of Women’s Tennis, Iain Bates, as well as LTA physio Will Herbert, with the duo both in her stadium box once again for the final on Saturday, alongside her coach Andrew Richardson and agent Chris Helliar.
Her astonishing performances at Wimbledon and then at Flushing Meadows have captured the attention of the nation. Having only just left school herself, the importance of inspiring the next generation of girls and boys to pick up a racket and play tennis is not something that is lost on the teenager, and so 2021 has also seen Raducanu become a passionate Ambassador for LTA Youth – supporting the LTA’s a new and innovative junior programme aimed at kids aged 4-18, created to help more children enjoy the benefits of playing and staying in tennis, whatever their age, gender, ability, disability or background.
In November 2021, Raducanu announced that she would begin working with Torben Beltz as her new coach. Beltz has strong experience on the WTA, having previously worked with former World No.1 Angelique Kerber and Donna Vekic. During his time with Kerber, she won three Grand Slam titles as well as the Olympic silver medal. Beltz will join Raducanu during the off-season ahead of her 2022 campaign.