Emma Raducanu: I felt like I was in New York again – I’m playing my best tennis

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain reacts against Diane Parry of France during the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier match between France and Great Britain at Le Chaudron on April 13, 2024 in Le Portel, France.

Emma Raducanu put on an impressive performance to help Great Britain in the Billie Jean King Cup – Getty Images/Aurelien Meunier

Emma Raducanu admitted to drawing on her New York experience as she faced down 3,000 raucous French fans in Le Portel, carrying the British team to victory with the same fearlessness that won her the 2021 US Open.

Having sent Great Britain through to the Billie Jean King Cup finals on merit for the first time since the early 1990s, Raducanu was visibly glowing with relief and satisfaction when she arrived in the interview room, accompanied by her team captain Anne Keothavong.

“It was pretty incredible inside that stadium,” said Raducanu, after coming from behind to edge out Diane Parry by a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 scoreline. “Like, the sound… because it’s such an enclosed space, everything feels so much louder.

“Luckily, I have good practice. Playing on Arthur Ashe [the main US Open stadium] was a similar thing, honestly, especially when they’re all against you. So I honestly wasn’t fazed about the crowd or the sound. I think that doesn’t really bother me, which is probably one of my strengths.

“The level out there today was really high. My last Fed Cup [actually BJK Cup now, after the 2020 rebrand] tie was in the Czech Republic two years ago. I think it’s great to see how far I’ve come, on a lot of notes. I’ve for sure improved because I feel like I’m playing some of the best tennis of my career and my life.”

Tennis has rarely been a joyful business for Raducanu since that unforgettable night on Arthur Ashe Stadium, two-and-a-half years ago. Her shock triumph made her an instant target, both for other players and for carping critics on social media. And when she developed chronic wrist trouble, which forced her off the tour for the majority of last season, she must have wondered if the US Open trophy had become a poisoned chalice.

Could this weekend in northern France represent a watershed? Frustratingly, there are no ranking points on offer in the BJK Cup, so Raducanu’s ranking will remain at a lowly No 302. But the expectation levels around her are a little less stifling these days, while her own physical resilience is starting to improve.

In Le Portel, Raducanu won two demanding three-setters in as many days – the first against world No 23 Caroline Garcia, the second over No 49 Parry – and spent a total of five hours on the court in the process. After the victory, she made a point of thanking Ian Aylward, the experienced fitness trainer who has been preparing the whole British team.

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain plays a backhand against Caroline Garcia of France during the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier match between France and Great Britain at Le Chaudron

Raducanu put in two fighting victories in in as many days in France – Getty Images/Aurelien Meunier

“I’m actually enjoying it,” she said, when asked about the additional challenge of playing on slippery red clay. “I feel like my movement has always been a strength on this surface, it was more just my patience and my fitness to stay in the long rallies and build the points. It’s definitely a budding relationship.”

‘Mentality has been one of my strengths’

And what of the extraordinary mental fortitude that saw her dominate the final-set tie-break, despite having been denied two match points by the stubborn Parry some 20 minutes earlier?

“It has been one of my strengths,” Raducanu said, of her icy temperament at moments of high stress. “It obviously takes a lot out of you to do that physically and emotionally. But I’m very pleased that I was able to do that this weekend. I think that, in the matches that I’ve lost, it’s probably not been there 100 per cent. And I know, like, ‘Okay, that’s how it’s got to be from now on, if I’m gonna be playing matches like that level.’”

The decibel levels inside Le Chaudron – which translates, appropriately enough, to “The Cauldron” – were never higher than when Parry saved those match points and broke back for 5-4 in the decider. It seemed that Great Britain were destined for another narrow defeat – something of a running theme in this competition – when Raducanu then found herself facing break points at 15-40 in her next service game.

“When I was up 5-2 I was striking it,” Raducanu recalled. “I was hitting the ball into the corners. I was going for my shots. And that was how I got up. So I wasn’t going to start pushing the ball around. It was just about executing, so I just refocused. Two break points down at 5-5, I pulled out a great ace and she missed her return, and that was a huge hold. In the breaker, I played amazing to be honest.”

‘Emma was in a bubble’

Raducanu burst out laughing at her own immodesty, but this was nothing less than the truth. The only point Parry collected in the tie-break, which seemed to be over in a matter of seconds, came via an unreturnable ace of her own.

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain looks on her match against Caroline Garcia of France during the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier match between France and Great Britain

Raducanu was praised for her focus in a difficult atmosphere – Getty Images/Aurelien Meunier

“Emma was in a bubble,” said Keothavong of Raducanu, who has been drawn to face former Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber in Stuttgart on Tuesday in her next WTA Tour match. “I think you could see that from the way she approached each point. And, you know, as loud as the crowd were, as tough as everything was out there, she handled herself incredibly well and showed so much grit and determination.

“When she’s in that zone, there’s very little for me to say at the change of ends. A player of her class, she knows what she’s doing. You can see when she’s in control. And despite not converting on the first few match points, the way she was able to regroup was just… I mean, it blows my mind the way she hit that ace on break point down

“For as long as I’ve followed this competition, this feels like a huge milestone to be able to earn your spot in the finals,” concluded Keothavong, who also commended British No 1 Katie Boulter for her earlier win over Clara Burel. “I’ve always believed we’ve got players who are capable of playing at the highest level in this competition. To have finally been able to achieve that this week, is something I’m not going to forget in a hurry.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.

Source link

About The Author