It has been over two years since Emma Raducanu stunned the tennis (and sporting) world by claiming the US Open title as an unseeded qualifier. Not only that, she won all her matches without losing a set. The Miracle of New York was achieved by a single-minded approach that blindsided her opponents. Her coach and team were in celebratory photos, but there was something very self-assured and knowing about the manner of the victory.
Within a fortnight of taking the Flushing Meadows trophy, the services of her coach, Andrew Richardson, were dispensed with as Raducanu cited the need for someone who had experience at the top of the tree. “At the end of the day, you’re out there on your own and you have to be your own coach on the court,” she mused in the month after the triumph in the Big Apple. Tim Henman appeared to get more praise as a courtside presence willing her on.
Since the autumnal fallout of 2021, the world number 283 has changed coaches no less than four times. Richardson was on a nine-week trial contract that abruptly ended just over a week after the glorious fortnight before. “On certain occasions, they (coaches) haven’t been able to keep up with the questions I’ve asked, and maybe that’s why it ended,” Raducanu told the BBC in a recent interview.
Coaches coming—and normally exiting—through the revolving door of Raducanu’s life have been easy gossip for vexatious voices, but the 20-year-old has left a vapour trail. It started back at Wimbledon in 2021 parted ways with Nigel Sears after reaching the fourth round with some eye-catching wins. Sears is a renowned WTA coach who has worked with Daniela Hantuchová, Ana Ivanovic, and Anett Kontaveit. Torben Beltz, who oversaw Angelique Kerber’s two majors, lasted five months, Dmitry Tursunov managed three, and Sebastian Sachs hit the jackpot with six.
It must have been seismic for the then-18-year-old to have to deal with the rarity of being a new British women’s tennis star on the block. This was a teenager who came out of leftfield with no expectations. That was the beauty of it. The interviews came thick and fast, as did the sponsorships and the agent. Raducanu was stepping into a whole new toy town. It has taken its toll on her body if not her brand value.
Perceived wisdom from the outside tends to smell a rat when the natural order of doing things isn’t followed. As the Gershwin brothers wrote, ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So.’ Raducanu has shown a high streak of ownership on and off the court. “Emma is a very independent young woman, and she has the ability to figure it out herself. A coach is there to help and guide, but ultimately it is up to the player, and hopefully, you can instil the confidence for that player to execute when it really matters,” said Anne Keothavong, who has been the Briton’s Billie Jean-King Cup coach.
The emphasis on the first British female major singles winner in 44 years constantly changing her team has been played out as a major crisis, mainly because her subsequent fortunes have dipped. There is an element of familial control that has a negative connotation of overbearing parents from the past. Ian Raducanu’s input is seen as micromanagement and boxed as such. The truth is somewhat more complex.
The WTA tour produces constant churn among coaches. Karolina Pliskova used to joke about how many times she changed it up. “Of course I change coaches a lot, so I think everybody’s kind of scared right now,” laughed the Czech after she left Conchita Martinez in 2019.
A reputation for hiring and firing is almost a warning that this or that player is trigger-happy. In highly charged competitive sports, a coach can often end up with permanent gardening leave if they challenge an established player. Naomi Osaka, who is planning a comeback, went through four coaches in 2019.
“So it [the pattern of short coaching tenures] doesn’t look great for people who want everything to be wrapped up in a perfect bow. But for the family, it’s just the way they’ve always done it,” said her agent Max Eisenbud in the summer.
Raducanu can start again in 2024 after successful wrist and ankle surgeries. If she does not, her agent has got her back. “None of her sponsors have ever rung up and said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe she’s not winning’. No one,” says Eisenbud. Money talks, but Raducanu wants to walk the walk again.