It could hardly have been better for Emma Raducanu that the Bromley Tennis Center was adjacent to Newstead Wood, the selective grammar school where she had secured one of the most sought-after places.
The only child of Ian and Renee, she had found herself in one of the best places in the country to perfect a tennis player.
The Raducanus had taken a circuitous route to arrive in this suburban area on the outskirts of southeast London. Ian had been raised in Bucharest, while Renee was born in Shenyang, a city in northeast China.
Emma Raducanu’s parents made sure their only child got a taste of many different sports and activities
The only child of Ian and Renee (L), she had found herself in one of the best places in the country to perfect a tennis player
Tennis became his primary passion, having first picked up a racket at the age of five
NO REFEREES, A MANUAL SCOREBOARD AND £75 IN PRIZE CASH… THE HUMBLE START TO RADUCANU’S GREAT CHEMEAU YEAR
The year 2021 is the year in which Emma Raducanu’s life will change. Not that she or anyone else would have had a clue about that, based on her first four months.
Tennis once again took its place on the back burner as she spent the short winter days with her head buried in her books, working towards her A levels. With people’s lives in the UK so restricted, she didn’t makes almost no concessions to his future career except for a few practice runs around Bromley.
Her on-court activity at this time was virtually nil, but as the days grew longer and tennis reopened, she stepped up her training.
With so little recent tennis behind her, it has been reported that in order to be considered for wildcards in upcoming grass-court events, she would have to start playing matches.
So Raducanu and new coach Nigel Sears made the decision to re-enter the competitive scrimmage on May 20, without fanfare, at the three-day British Tour event at the Connaught Club in Chingford, Essex.
Along with everyone else, Raducanu dutifully paid her £25 entry fee as she set out to gain some much-needed competitive exposure after a five-month absence. His first opponent of the year was Maddie Brooks, a 23-year-old from Norfolk who was dispatched 6-1, 6-1.
After forfeiting in the quarter-finals, Raducanu faced Katherine Barnes, a year his senior and with virtually no professional gaming experience. Rewatching the footage of that match is simply marveling that one of the participants, just 112 days later, would lift the US Open trophy on Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
A rather staggering note is that the previous week, at the British Tour event in Woking, Barnes had lost to a 12-year-old.
On Connaught’s hard courts, there were no linesmen or ballkids, not even a referee. The future queen of Flushing Meadows played the match in leggings, and Barnes can be seen manually entering the points on an old-fashioned scoreboard near the net post.
In the first set, Raducanu double faulted several times, missed his groundstrokes and struggled with his opponent’s unorthodox, slapped forehand.
Things improved in the second set, but she was to lose the decisive tiebreaker to the “Champions”, losing 6–1, 1–6, 10–8.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that it all felt like a park game.
The Kent player was due to walk away with £75 in prize money for making the semi-finals, around £1.8million less than she would be paid less than four months later in New York.
Of different origins, and in search of a better life, they had met in Toronto, where their only daughter was born.
When Emma was two years old, they went to work in London, Ian as a project manager in finance and Renee in the foreign exchange world. They settled in a house in a cul-de-sac on the Orpington/Bromley border – which, in 2021, would briefly become Britain’s most famous semi-detached house.
Back in the days of Wimbledon, neighbors spoke of the beloved and hardworking family whose youngest member had suddenly been rocketed to glory by reaching the fourth round at SW19.
Before focusing solely on tennis, they ensured that their only child got a taste of many different sports and activities.
Ballet lessons were one thing, while there were also regular trips to a converted bus garage in Streatham where she enjoyed go-karting, before switching to two-wheeled motocross. Her fondness for motorsports, especially Formula 1, stayed with her well into adulthood.
However, tennis became his first passion. She had first picked up a racquet at the age of five when her parents tried out the sport in local parks, and the first time she got her name on an honor roll was in winning the Bromley Tennis Center tournament for under-eights at the age of six. By the age of seven, she had reached the final of a winter national tournament in Oxfordshire.
At a young age, Raducanu impressed former British No.1 Anne Keothavong.
“Shortly after retiring in 2013 I was doing my coaching qualifications and in a few sessions I was given Emma as a guinea pig,” she recalls.
“I had been told Emma was promising and it was pretty obvious why. You don’t see a lot of kids trying to take the ball early and on the rise like she did. I was not far from the tour and I remember thinking, ‘I really have to concentrate here’ when I was hitting with her.’
Some seven years later, with the world in lockdown, former Davis Cup player turned TV commentator and coach Mark Petchey was brought in to do extra on-court work with Raducanu while his adviser – the Belgian coach Philippe Dehaes – was unable to travel to the UK.
His first appearance on the court since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic came in early July 2020 – in the week that should have seen the start of Wimbledon – when a British Tour event was taking place in Roehampton. Under strict supervision, some of the country’s top prospects came together and Raducanu was to take four wins and emerge victorious.
Petchey’s primary memory of the event wasn’t so much the match as what she was armed with beforehand.
“Emma arrived with an A4 sheet of paper with all this stuff on it, it was the most complicated thing I have ever seen. I didn’t understand much about it,” admits Petchey.
“It was his game plan in remarkable detail, color-coded. I never thought someone could take so much information with them to court and execute them.
“What it told you, however, was that there was someone who was diligent about her pre-match preparations and how seriously she was going to take this as a career.”
Petchey enjoyed working with Raducanu, whom he describes as “very mature for his age”. He also enjoyed working with his father, whose views on coaching were considered unconventional by many in the game.
At a young age, Raducanu impressed former UK No.1 Anne Keothavong
Mark Petchey (L) has been brought in to do extra work on the pitch with Raducanu locked out
His pick-and-mix approach to gleaning knowledge extended to believing that certain coaches should be picked to work for their expertise on certain shots.
Petchey provides fascinating insight into Ian Raducanu’s unorthodox approach when it came to instilling professional habits in his daughter. One morning she arrived for practice and upon opening her racquet bag found a large sack of potatoes inside.
“She was standing there pulling those potatoes out and we were laughing about it. It was about teaching her how to pack well, which some young players can be careless about – that was the whole premise behind it all and she got it.
“It was like, ‘You’ve got a bag that’s four pounds heavier than yesterday, but you haven’t even noticed it.’ I thought that was smart.
Adapted from EMMA RADUCANU: WHEN TENNIS CAME HOME by Mike Dickson, published today by Hodder at £20. © Mike Dickson 2022.
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