What next for Emma Raducanu?
It is a question we have been asking for the best part of two years and the truth is, we are no closer to finding an answer.
Raducanu is expected to head to Australia in the coming days ahead of the start of the new season, but a decision on what tournament she will play in the opening months of 2024 remains undecided.
The 21-year-old and her advisers are keen to keep her schedule and progress under wraps as she prepares to return from double wrist and ankle surgery, but here is what we know about her rise, fall and what we all should hope is the return of one of the biggest names in the women’s game.
There has never been a sporting tale that has seen an athlete rise to international superstardom at the pace of Raducanu.
Junior players in any sport tend to make a mark in the game and build slowly towards a crescendo, yet this young tennis star exploded in a manner we have never seen in this sport.
Raducanu’s run to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2021 was a glimpse of what was possible, but there was never any thought that she would back that up by winning the US Open a few months late in one of the ultimate sporting fairy tales.
Dealing with the expectations and sponsorship demands that inevitably flowed following that triumph was always going to be a challenge, but the story since has been even more challenging than anyone would have imagined.
RECORD SINCE THE US OPEN WIN
Since winning the US Open in September 2021, Raducanu has played 49 competitive matches at WTA Tour level and has won 23 of them.
Her overall career record confirms she has won 34 matches and lost 30 of the 64 she has played at the top level of the game and in truth, that is a decent record for a 21-year-old player trying to make her mark on the WTA Tour.
The trouble is, Raducanu set her standards so high in her breakthrough tournaments at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2021 that anything less than title-winning excellence would have been viewed as a failure.
Those expectations were always unrealistic and they need to reset as the former world No 10 prepares to return to action.
WHEN CAN WE EXPECT RADUCANU TO RETURN?
Raducanu has been training at the LTA’s National Tennis Centre in London over the last few months and has charted her progress on her Instagram account.
The former British No 1 has stepped up her workload in recent weeks, but her decision to pull out of a planned comeback event in China last weekend was confirmation that she is not ready to play competitive tennis, even in an exhibition format.
There were suggestions that Raducanu would not attempt to make a comeback in the opening weeks of 2024, but there are now hints that she may try to play some part in the Australian swing of the tour next month.
That may not mean playing the Australian Open, but she could enter smaller events around the opening major of the new year to assess her level ahead of a full comeback in March.
WHAT ABOUT HER RANKING?
Raducanu can return to the game with a protected ranking of No 103 and would be entitled to take wildcards into numerous events as a Grand Slam champion.
Her profile in the sport and on social media, where she has 2.4 million followers on Instagram, ensures that tournament organisers will want one of the most fascinating players in the sport in their draw.
Yet the interest in Raducanu will wane quickly unless she starts to win matches and rise back up the WTA rankings again.
WHAT SHOULD RADUCANU DO NEXT?
Avoid the temptation to play top-ranking events from the start of her comeback.
Raducanu will get invites to play in some of the biggest tournaments next year, but she would be wise to take a step back, play some lower-ranking events and get her confidence back on track.
It remains to be seen how her sponsors would view appearances on the ITF World Tennis Tour or WTA125 events, but that is what this gifted 21-year-old may need to rebuild her fitness levels and self-belief.
WHAT RANKING WILL RADUCANU HAVE THIS TIME NEXT YEAR?
John McEnroe told Tennis365 that no player can win a Grand Slam title by a fluke and that is the story with Raducanu.
The draw may have opened up for her at the 2021 US Open, but her achievement of winning 10 matches and not dropping a set in New York is arguably the greatest in tennis history.
She has the talent to get back to the top of the game and if she can stay fit and retain her desire to climb the ladder back to the top again if she suffers some early setbacks, a return to the top 30 would be a good target for 2024.
That would ensure Raducanu is seeded for Grand Slam events and would also mean she has beaten some top players during her comeback year.
There is far too much negativity around this brilliant young player and it seems so many of her critics want her to fail.
Such pessimism needs to be banished as Raducanu can still be a great gift to our sport and we should all be hoping she succeeds in her comeback bid.