If one of the key tennis skills is to pick your moments wisely, then Emma Raducanu – or, more accurately, her agents at IMG – should be on high alert this week.
On Wednesday night, it emerged that Wim Fissette, one of the most sought-after coaches on the women’s tour, had split with the four-time major champion Naomi Osaka. Here is the perfect candidate to revive the Raducanu project, which has been temporarily derailed by a vacuum of leadership.
A calm and reassuring presence, Fissette has delivered improvements for all nine of his previous clients, who started with Kim Clijsters in 2009. And with Raducanu’s ranking likely to drop outside the world’s top 50 in the next couple of months – unless she can rediscover last summer’s stunning form – she is badly in need of his nurturing guidance.
I should probably pause at this point to leave space for the traditional chorus of “She’s only 19!” and “Just let her play!” These would be valid objections if Raducanu were just another teenager finding her feet on the world tour. But she is a special case, for at least two reasons.
The first is obvious enough. Raducanu made history – and herself into a target – when she became the first player to win a major via the qualifying event. It goes without saying that her newfound fame attracts pressure and attention. And that her nine sponsors will be following her recent results with growing anxiety.
The more important point, though, relates to the eccentric way in which Raducanu and her management (which includes not only IMG but her family) have gone about building on last summer’s miracles. Together, they have ignored every precedent established over more than 50 years of professional tennis, deciding that a talented 19-year-old doesn’t need a steady coach and can work things out for herself.
In her refusal to bring a coach to Wimbledon this summer, Raducanu resembled a militant environmentalist trying to live off the grid, without the usual conveniences of electricity and running water.
While admiring her determination to go it alone, I came away asking “What was the point of all that?” The British grass-court season – which found her performing in front of a home crowd for the first time since New York – was already bound to be freighted with huge amounts of stress. Why make everything even harder?
Hence the logic of contacting Fissette at a moment when he is available for the first time since Raducanu finished her A-levels. Before Wednesday’s announcement, he and Osaka had spent two-and-a-half seasons together, capturing the 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open titles back to back. They might have done even better, but for the pandemic, and for Osaka’s decision to step back from the tour last summer to take care of her mental health.
Those two trophies added to Fissette’s 13-year record of success. Of the nine players he has worked with, six are major champions, and two more have been runners-up at grand-slam events.
The only woman on the list who never played in a major final is Johanna Konta – Raducanu’s predecessor as British No 1. And even in this case, Fissette helped Konta achieve her deepest Wimbledon run before she was eliminated in the 2017 semi-finals by Venus Williams.
The potential hitch here is that Fissette does not come cheap. The Raducanus have yet to hire anyone who has his quality of CV, and have generally not shown enormous enthusiasm for investing in their support team.
Also, Fissette might be concerned about the possibility of reputational damage if he follows in the footsteps of her last three coaches – Nigel Sears, Andrew Richardson and Torben Beltz – by spending only a few months in the job.
But Fissette also likes to be in the spotlight, which is a position guaranteed to anyone working with Raducanu. So this would be a good moment for those around her to stop trying to reinvent the wheel, and to acknowledge that she could use a reliable mentor.
The timing feels serendipitous. A man who combines emotional intelligence with technical insight, Fissette would surely be an asset to Raducanu’s US Open title defence.