Emma Raducanu will make her momentous debut on Centre Court on Monday, and the US Open champion admitted there would undoubtedly be nerves ahead of stepping on to the most famous arena in tennis.
Considering Raducanu’s stunning run to the fourth round last year, and everything that has happened since, it is easy to forget that she has never had the honour of playing on the main show court at Wimbledon.
But she has been granted a place in a blockbuster line-up on the opening day of the Championships. Her first-round match against Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck is slotted between those of defending champion Novak Djokovic and British icon Andy Murray.
The pressure of the moment will be great but, regardless of the setting, she said she was always going to be juggling a lot of emotions coming back to the All England Club.
“I think there’s always going to be nerves before a match, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing on Centre Court or Court 25 – it’s a tennis match and it matters,” she said. “It’s good to have nerves because otherwise it would not matter to you. So I think I’m just going to be really, really excited but of course a little bit nervous. But as soon as the crowd gets going I’m definitely going to be enjoying it.”
Last year Raducanu played on No 1 Court against Ajla Tomljanovic in the fourth round, but was forced to retire after suffering breathing difficulties. Her experience at show courts has expanded since then, in particular playing four matches at the 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium during the US Open. But players note a different aura about Centre Court, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Despite being the youngest honorary member of the All England Club, Raducanu’s only experience of Centre Court was as a spectator watching the final last year. “To be honest, I haven’t actually been out on Centre Court hitting-wise. Going out there and sitting on it, just taking it all in, I watched the women’s final last year actually. It does bear some similarities to No 1 Court, but it has got a special feeling about it just because of all the history and prestige that goes about Centre Court,” she said.
Last year she was an unknown prospect, fresh from finishing her A-levels. On Monday, the thousands of fans descending on Wimbledon station will be greeted by a massive billboard of her face in a HSBC advert, one of a number of lucrative brand partnerships she now has to her name.
The spotlight on Raducanu in front of the home crowd is going to be unlike anything Wimbledon has seen. Not only is she the overnight British sensation who made history in New York, but she is also juggling an unfortunate injury.
She has played only 33 minutes on the grass this season, due to a side strain which has kept her out of competitive action since June 7. Her race to be back to fitness in time was a struggle, but she has insisted she is “ready to go”.
After the highs of last year, Raducanu has a 8-11 win-loss ratio for 2022.
If she was not a US Open champion and the darling of British tennis, that would have been deemed an overall success for a 19-year-old who remains a work in progress. But, for better or worse, Raducanu is no longer granted that sort of patience.
She has brought in childhood coach and mentor Jane O’Donoghue to help her on the practice court this week and is intent on keeping grounded at Wimbledon. Drawing on her memories from last year has helped her find the “joy” in her tennis.
“Sometimes I go through my photos and camera roll, I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I’ll look at a photo and go through all the emotions I was feeling at the time and relive that,” she said. “I think that’s a really good way to feel what you used to feel, like I’m in that moment. It’s a really cool thing to do in my spare time.
“For example, when I rewatch my third-round match here, I remember I was hitting some incredible shots that just came out of nowhere. But I was thinking at the time that I had no idea how I had ever pulled that off. I can relive every single moment of that. That just gives you a lot of joy, everybody watching you and getting really fired up.
“Everyone wants me to do well. There’s nothing to feel overwhelmed about because they’re just going to be rooting for me.”