Only one thing will silence Raducanu’s social media snipers – winning matches
Analysis by Simon Briggs
Emma Raducanu did not need much prompting this week to speak about her growing web of commercial entanglements.
As a member of the social media generation, she is all too familiar with the snarky comments that greet each new sponsorship announcement. And when she said that the reactions were “unfair”, and the narrative “misleading”, she was clearly getting her frustrations off her chest from her.
The timing of this week’s Porsche announcement, only a couple of days before Raducanu’s three-hour loss to Katerina Siniakova, was particularly unfortunate. “Stick to adverts and product placement,” said one critic after the three-set defeat.
Others asked whether Raducanu had arrived on court with tired arms, having spent too much time posing behind a steering wheel.
At the very least, this is a problem of perception. By winning 10 of her first 11 Grand Slam matches, including the US Open title in September, Raducanu has created a level of expectation that few 19-year-olds have ever had to deal with.
Then, when results get away from her – as they have done at speed since her breakthrough in New York – all those endorsements offer an obvious angle of attack. It is not only coming from armchair critics, either.
Around the tournaments, you hear the same comments from coaches and agents. (Even if some of those agents are probably irritated that they are not the ones entrusted with Raducanu’s account.)
There is only one way to break this remorseless chain of logic. Raducanu’s best defense is attack. Or, at least, success in court. With a smattering of victories to act as evidence of improvement – and preferably one or two high-profile scalps – the chorus of disapproval will switch from fortissimo to sotto voce.
It is both Raducanu’s privilege and curse that she lives under a magnifying glass. An explosive player who delivered near-impossible results at an early age, she has charmed millions with her gamine looks and natural, unaffected demeanor. Increasingly, though, those fans are being counterbalanced by an army of skeptics and naysayers.
Teenager is still adapting to a tennis player’s nomadic life
Call it tall poppy syndrome. The pattern is a familiar one. Other young women have claimed stunning early successes – think Jelena Ostapenko, Bianca Andreescu or Sofia Kenin – before dropping out of the conversation unexpectedly.
These gifted teenagers started out as meteors, before trying to establish a regular orbit within the sport. Unfortunately, crash-landings are equally as common.
One factor that suggests Raducanu can escape such a fate is her self-awareness, which is unusually well developed for her age. During this week’s interviews, she was impressively honest about the physical shortcomings that have dogged her all year.
When it was suggested that she runs out of gas too often, she did not demur. “In my matches in Indian Wells,” she replied, “I would start off very strong, and then I’m dead for the second set, and then I’m fighting for my life in the third set. Three good weeks in New York aren’t going to outdo the years of hard work the other players have been doing. I’m training hard, I’m putting the hours in and I just need to get more volume and more capacity.”
Here was a precise and accurate analysis. Would someone capable of such candid self-assessment be likely to take their eye off the ball?
It is true that Raducanu’s expanding portfolio of deals does not make for a good look. And it is also true that spending three or four days per quarter on photoshoots – which was her own estimate of her this week – is already on the heavy side.
In the short term, though, there are other factors behind Raducanu’s recent paucity of results. A few days of photoshoots might be inconvenient, but not as disruptive as the bout of Covid that wiped out three weeks of off-season training.
Six months after she lifted the US Open’s giant silver cup, Raducanu is still coping with growing pains, still adapting to a tennis player’s nomadic life. We should be careful not to judge her too soon.