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Emma Raducanu’s tennis education continues apace. On Friday she made her Great Britain debut in the Billie Jean King Cup tie against the Czech Republic. It was also her first professional assignment on clay. This week, complete with blistered foot, she moves on to Stuttgart and her first individual tournament on clay, the Porsche Grand Prix.
The firsts have come thick and fast since winning the US Open seven months ago. She is absorbing the experiences any up-and-coming tennis player would, only in a much more public setting by virtue of the elevated status her stunning triumph as a New York qualifier brought.
Learning under such a spotlight is a difficult setting. Every tournament she plays, every coaching appointment, every interview she conducts ripples out far and wide.
There are upsides to this when things go well. Her victory over World No 50 Tereza Martincova on the unfamiliar surface on Friday, her best in terms of an opponent’s ranking since the US Open, received widespread praise.
But there are also downsides when they don’t – like with Saturday’s thrashing by Marketa Vondrousova. For the most part tennis life for Raducanu has been a struggle since she stunned the sporting world at Flushing Meadows.
Her record of four wins in the eight individual tournaments she has entered, prompted ex-Australian Open semifinalist Daniela Hantuchova to claim after her second round loss to Katerina Siniakova at the Miami Open last month that Raducanu was losing the respect of her rivals.
If that is true of her fellow pros then they are pretty short-sighted. Mis-steps are inevitable for a teenager nine months out of school effectively building her career in reverse. The British sporting public have to this point been much more realistic and accepting. They rightly remain foursquare behind her.
Raducanu should tread carefully with their affections however and in one area in particular. No-one should mind an athlete profiting from their talents but if her huge support base sense Raducanu is taking her eye off the ball and prioritising cash over court they will be a good deal less forgiving of the early exits.
The Porsche Grand Prix conveniently syncs Raducanu with one of her swelling portfolio of sponsors. The German car manufacturers last month joined a rapidly-expanding list of brands which also includes Vodafone, Tiffany, Dior, Evian and British Airways. And that is before we even get to her tennis deals with Nike and Wilson.
Raducanu is a client of the powerful IMG management stable which also includes Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams. IMG are clearly keen to maximise her short-term returns – and have been very successful in doing so – but the rush to strike while the iron is hot makes you wonder how much faith they have in her to back up her US Open success in the longer term.
She seems happy to go along with the commercial plan and has defended her plethora of deals by insisting she will only spend “three, four days every quarter” on sponsors’ business. A commitment of around 15 days a year does not sound like much of an ‘only’. If there is a price to pay on the court the deals aren’t worth it.
In many ways Porsche is the perfect fit for her – she is a motorsport nut. Which 19-year-old wouldn’t want to drive one? But it is the overall balance which is at question here.
The path through the forest of commercial temptations has to be a sustainable one for Raducanu. She is British tennis’s great hope for the next decade, the player who can inspire a generation, not a walking billboard.
If IMG cannot provide wise counsel, she should move on. There isn’t a management agency out there who would not want her. Raducanu, for all her post-US Open hiccups, moves the needle like few other British athletes.
The focus on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is going to be particularly intense over the coming months heading into the meat of the tennis season with the French Open next month, Wimbledon at the end of June and her US Open defence in late August on the horizon.
No matter the formative stage of her development, there will be pressure on her to win matches – not just for herself and her fans but for all those companies that have been welcomed into her circle and want a slice of her success.
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