Rebuilding Emma Raducanu: Inside the four big changes that rekindled her love of tennis (2024)

Table of Contents
Mood Coach Technique Reception

In a microcosm of this whole rain-blighted Wimbledon, Emma Raducanu’s exit was a story of Sun and cloud.

The cloud, she said, surrounded her decision to pull out of her mixed-doubles partnership with Andy Murray. The Sun was Lulu Sun, the unknown qualifier who pummelled the ball away for 52 clean winners – the highest figure registered by any player in the tournament.

But we shouldn’t wallow in gloom. Reaching the last 16 of a major is still a fine effort, and one which Katie Boulter and Heather Watson – two Britons with multiple WTA titles to their names – have yet to manage.

Despite the disappointment of Raducanu’s 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 loss against Sun, she will return to the top 100 on Monday, and has already committed to a solid run on the American hard courts, starting in Washington DC at the end of this month.

Raducanu’s seven-day campaign was a vast improvement on her limp 2022 Wimbledon showing. And while her lack of match conditioning probably caught up with her against Sun, all the indices are tracking in the right direction.

Mood

“I feel good about things going forwards. I feel optimistic.” These were Raducanu’s last public utterances at Wimbledon, and they followed the buoyant trend of the past fortnight. Ever since she arrived in Eastbourne for her build-up event, she has been full of bonhomie.

While Raducanu’s friend Fran Jones jokingly credited their joint visit to Oxford University for the mood bump, the real explanation is more prosaic. For the first time since she won the US Open, Raducanu feels in control of her game.

Her technique – particularly on the forehand side – had become an issue since she shot to fame. Amid the sudden expectation and scrutiny that followed her US Open triumph, she lost the free-wheeling ambition that had ambushed so many opponents, and began playing crabby defence instead.

In recent weeks, though, Raducanu’s ball has regained some of its old bite. Not so much against Sun, the qualifier whose surge through the Wimbledon draw must have reminded her of her own breakthrough, but certainly against ninth seed Maria Sakkari in the previous round.

“I beat two top 10 players within two weeks, which is a pretty big deal for me, seeing as the whole US Open I didn’t play one top 10 player,” Raducanu explained. “Six months ago when I was starting out after surgery, I would have signed [up] for fourth round at Wimbledon.”

Coach

Finally, after more than two years of instability, Raducanu has found a coach she trusts.

It was at the National Tennis Centre last autumn that Raducanu began hitting balls again, after double-wrist surgery in May. This was also the point when she turned to Nick Cavaday – a 38-year-old who ran the Bromley Tennis Centre when Raducanu was training there between the ages of 10 and 12.

Since then, Cavaday has overseen a thorough reboot of Raducanu’s game, with the help of another old ally in Jane O’Donoghue, a former Lawn Tennis Association coach who now works in the finance sector.

Raducanu’s conveyor belt of coaches has been well documented, with Torben Beltz, Dmitry Tursunov and Sebastian Sachs all taking a turn. The essential problem, though, was that she needed detailed technical guidance in a sport where most coaches are vibes merchants.

It is an oddity of tennis that the biomechanical savants who build shots and shape body positions mostly work at developmental level. Whereas the role of a touring coach is usually to keep their player contented and reassured. The hurly burly of a 10-month tour leaves precious little room for detail.

Yet Raducanu has always been more technically minded than most players, and sceptical of many coaches’ insight levels. “I ask my coaches a lot of questions,” she said at the end of last season. “I think on certain occasions they haven’t been able to keep up with the questions I’ve asked, so maybe that’s why it ended.”

In Cavaday, she has found the answers she was looking for. And in O’Donoghue, a sympathetic ear. “Jane is like a big sister,” Raducanu said last week. “She always took me under her wing. She was my national coach when I was younger, and we always stayed in touch. [She is] a friend looking out for me, but I’m very happy with the work I’m doing with Nick, and that’s very much solid.”

Technique

When Raducanu won the US Open, it was hard to see any flaws in her game apart from a weak overhead smash. That is what high confidence and low expectation will do for a player.

Since then, we have come to learn that her backhand is world-class but her forehand becomes wobbly when she isn’t feeling on top of the world. As a junior, she used to hit it with a very closed semi-Western grip which made it spinny rather than penetrative. And those bad habits returned in earnest at Wimbledon in 2022, where she could barely propel the ball beyond the service line. In the second round against Caroline Garcia, she was dismissed so easily that she could have been a no-hoper.

The statistics show the issue clearly: just four forehand winners against Garcia, and only two against Alison Van Uytvanck in the previous match. This year, though, the numbers have recovered close to where they were in 2021.

So what are the actual changes that Raducanu has made? They might seem small to the uninitiated, but bear in mind that any shifts in technique become significantly more difficult to implement once a player moves past adolescence.

On the forehand, she is generating more torque by moving her right shoulder back and twisting her upper body. This creates greater racket-head speed on the swing and allowed her to keep up with Sakkari’s booming groundstrokes on Friday night.

Meanwhile, Cavaday has also overseen an even more obvious change to Raducanu’s serve. Since the start of the grass-court season, she has cut out the loop on her takeback. This used to find her racket tip pointing at the back fence before she moved into the trophy position [where both hands are above the head].

Now she has a far more compact motion, in which the racket doesn’t move backwards at all but comes over the head like a salute – the sort of abbreviated technique that the world-beating server Andy Roddick used to use.

Reception

Since those first weeks after her unprecedented triumph at the US Open, Raducanu has always attracted plenty of jealousy and flak on social media. In person, though, she is a born entertainer.

Her first match at Wimbledon against Renata Zarazua produced a mixed bag of a performance. But it was still a fascinating watch and she came up with a winning line in her on-court interview when she quipped about “winning ugly” like the England football team.

Even the fuss surrounding Raducanu’s mixed-doubles withdrawal had little or no impact on her popularity. When she stole the second set from Sun against the run of play, the roar felt like a passenger jet was taking off from neighbouring Wimbledon Park golf course.

Had she not slipped and fallen just three points later, necessitating an 11-minute medical stoppage and a break in the excitement, the passion of the Centre Court crowd could well have sparked a tumultuous comeback.

Admittedly, Raducanu might still not be stacking up the tournaments as regularly as her main rivals, but these are all encouraging steps. And the warmth of her reception should give her fuel as she goes back to the training court.

“I think certain things I have been doing better over the grass-court season,” Raducanu said, in her final analysis. “My serve got better. I think I need to just work on the consistency of it, like being good every day, not just some days.

“Today, as bitter as it is to take, I think it happened for a reason,” she added. “You don’t want things to happen too easily and too quickly. Well, I had that before. I don’t necessarily want just a massive spike. I think I’m just working, tracking in the right direction. I’ll start off in DC and go from there.”

Rebuilding Emma Raducanu: Inside the four big changes that rekindled her love of tennis (2024)
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