Raducanu keeping her impressive calm in the whirlwind: “I don’t want to get ahead of myself”
Emma Raducanu is living the dream in New York, but she’s also extremely aware of what she needs to do to stay in the zone
It has to be the trend of this US Open: 18-year-old players defying all odds but still dealing with it as if it was somehow their new routine. Emma Raducanu, like Leylah Fernandez, is now into her first Grand Slam semi-final, and, as much as her game is lethal, it’s the calm of her mind that might be even more impressive. On Wednesday, Raducanu found a way through Belinda Bencic, and made history, with some laser focus and ice-cold nerves: it’s as if nothing can derail her from the track to victory.
“I’m so pleased to have come through that. Belinda is such a great opponent and she’s an Olympic gold medallist, which is probably one of the biggest events in the sport. She’s a great player, and I knew it was going to be an extremely difficult match. It took me some adjusting at the beginning to get used to her ball speed, yeah, how aggressive she was. Once I adjusted, I settled in. I didn’t overpress as much. I found a way to win, but it was very difficult to play against someone at such a high level.”
Nothing looks difficult for Raducanu since the start of the tournament, so here’s the proof she also has a great poker face. The imminent British No 1 as of Monday – about which she had no idea until a reporter told her in her post-match press conference – is giving lessons about keeping the head in the game in New York. Exactly like Fernandez, she’s refusing to acknowledge or enjoy the hype. She sticks to her routine and lives by the sentence feared by every tennis writer nightmare around the world: she’s taking things match by match.
“When you’re playing tournaments, you just get into this sort of autopilot mode of your routines”
Staying in the present is usually the toughest thing to do under pressure for the newcomers, but for Raducanu it’s already part of her game and that’s a massive advantage.
“I have just been focusing one day at a time, taking care of each day. When you’re playing tournaments, you just get into this sort of autopilot mode of your routines, recovering on the day off in between. I didn’t expect to be here at all. I think my flights were booked at the end of qualifying, so it’s a nice problem to have (smiling). I’m just really enjoying the experience. Out there on the court today, I was saying to myself, ‘This could be the last time you play on Ashe, so might as well just go for it and enjoy everything’.
“Let’s say I have a hunger to win every single match I play, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself at all, because I just like to take it one day at a time. If I take care of what I can control, then that’s going to give me the best chance. Until now, I think it’s worked very well for me not to get ahead of myself, just focusing on one point at a time. It’s got me to this stage, and I’m not going to change anything.”
She’s 18 but speaks like someone who has already figured herself out: owning her own path, not caring too much about what’s on her rivals’ plates. She has known Fernandez since the under 12s for example and is happy to see the Canadian doing so well. She was even sharing cupcakes with her the other day to celebrate the older girl’s 19th birthday. “I think to compare yourself and your results against anyone is probably like the thief of happiness, and everyone is doing their own thing. It just shows that if you believe in yourself, then anything is possible.”
So we’re all intrigued: how is she staying so calm despite having basically no experience at this level? She’s two wins away from her first Grand Slam title and she makes it seems like it’s already a natural part of her journey. For Raducanu, the answer is easy: she was raised this way.
Raducanu: “The calmness and the mental strength definitely come from my upbringing”
“The calmness and the mental strength definitely come from my upbringing. I think my parents have both instilled in me from a very young age to definitely have a positive attitude on the court because when I was younger, it was definitely an absolute no-go if I had any sort of bad attitude. So from a young age, I definitely learnt that, and it’s followed me until now.
“When you’re serving out a match on such a big stage, to go into your first semi-finals of a slam, you definitely need a sense of calm to get through that moment, especially I was down 0-30, and to just reset and focus on what I could control. I knew exactly what patterns I was going to play and, yeah, I was just very focused and in the moment, wasn’t getting ahead of myself.”
She has no idea of the records she has smashed here, nor does she seem to care about them that much. “I’m not here to chase any records right now. I’m just taking care of what I can do at the moment and on the match ahead. Off the court, I’m a pretty relaxed person. I don’t really stress out over many things. I trust myself and it’s all mental at the end of the day.”
Raducanu can do no wrong here this year, it seems. She has even started to slide on the hard courts, something she was unable to do before despite how much she wanted to. “Physically I would say I’m not 100% developed yet, but my speed and ability to get to some of the balls have definitely surprised me. I have started sliding, which I didn’t know I could do actually, and I kind of do it by accident now.” A natural, really.