It is a fascinating thing, watching eight Oxford undergrads be made to feel like underachievers. Normally, we think we are pretty on top of things: we managed to get into one of the best universities in the world; we can whack out a 2,000-word essay in a morning; and WE are never the embarrassment at family gatherings. But on Saturday 11 September 2021 the extraordinary happened – an 18-year-old tennis player put us all in our place. Superiority was over, and awed suspense took its place.
Emma Raducanu stormed onto the scene at Wimbledon in June. Coming off the back of her A-levels (in which she did exceptionally well), she won the hearts of the nation as a wildcard who sailed through the first three rounds, but disaster struck when she was forced to retire for medical reasons. Yet, this did not deter her spirits going into the US Open. From the beginning of qualifying to her final ace Raducanu did not drop a single set. She is the first female qualifier in history to win the US Open, and the first British woman to win since Virginia Wade in 1977. The scale of her sporting achievement is unquestionable, and I challenge anyone to suggest that she does not play beautifully. But what has captured the press and public is Emma Raducanu the person rather than Emma Raducanu the player.
With a winning smile and happy attitude, she has already perfected the art of the interview (thus, in my eyes, already making her far superior to the monotone bored specimen that is Andy Murray). Off-court, things only get better for Raducanu. With a recently boosted Instagram following of 1.9 million, she invites people into the world of a teenage tennis star. You cannot deny the marketability of a young, pretty British star who exudes unadulterated enthusiasm (again, this is not something we have seen from British tennis in a while).
As if all this wasn’t enough, Emma also found herself on the beige carpet of this year’s Met Gala, Vogue’s annual fashion event. Due to Covid, Anna Wintour’s colossus of couture was rescheduled from the first Monday of May to conveniently just after the US Open. Guests normally include a mixture of models, actors, musicians, and sports personalities; Wintour, a fan of tennis, is regularly spotted at Wimbledon and is close friends with the Federers. Raducanu is certainly now a sports personality. Dressed from head to toe in Chanel’s 2021/22 Cruise Collection, she graced photographers with a stunning black and white look. But Raducanu’s links to fashion are not limited to this one hallowed event. Following her Wimbledon success, she was featured in British Vogue dressed in what might be described as high fashion ‘athleisure’. Negotiating a backhand while wearing Valentino is something Raducanu has no trouble with.
Her outfits have taken centre stage since her Wimbeldon debut; following her defeat of Sorana Cristea, she quipped, “It’s funny, because at the beginning when I was packing to come into the bubble, my parents were like, ‘aren’t you packing too many sets of match kit?’”. Rest assured, her sponsorship deal with Nike kept her well stocked this season. While most of us probably cannot relate to sponsorship deals of such magnitude (or sponsorship deals at all, for that matter), I have a feeling that many of us will relate to the lack of faith placed in an 18-year-old. Maybe she is just like us…
The big question is, where will she go from here? Victory at the Australian Open, maybe? A new sponsorship deal with Adidas, perhaps? An answer to the eternal debate: Rolex or Omega? Her opportunities seem boundless, primarily as a result of her earnings. As The Daily Squat so delicately put it, “Emma Raducanu becomes first teenager to afford a house deposit in London.” With new deals appearing in the press every day and an estimated future net worth of £1 billion – at least, according to The Mail), I can see her being able to put more than just a deposit down shortly. I am beginning to regret the tennis camps I dossed about in, and the club matches I couldn’t be bothered to waste a weekend on. But then again, watching some of the training videos she uploads to masses of followers who – like myself – have spent the afternoon on the sofa, allows me to take heart in my less strenuous life choices. Re-watching Friends is a valid activity, albeit possibly less fun than going to the Met Gala or becoming the new Tiffany brand ambassador.
Given her incredible trajectory over these past three months, it would be impossible to say where we might find Raducanu in a year’s time. If we consider her career so far I would be fearful of making any future predictions. It would seem limiting to assess her talent now when she has so much ahead of her. I would mainly be fearful of conjecturing anything, as vastly exceeding expectations seems to be a habit of hers. Maybe she’ll win another couple of titles, maybe she won’t. But I would happily bet any career I could have had in tennis on the fact that we will be seeing a lot more of her. Personally, I am unconcerned about whether it is on ESPN or in Vogue.