HomeSportsEmma Raducanu: It felt like I was back in New York –...

Emma Raducanu: It felt like I was back in New York – I’m playing my best tennis

Emma Raducanu put in an impressive performance to help Great Britain win the Billie Jean King Cup – Getty Images/Aurelien Meunier

Emma Raducanu admitted to drawing on her experience in New York as she defeated 3,000 raucous French fans at Le Portel and led the British team to victory with the same fearlessness that saw her win the 2021 US Open.

After putting Great Britain through to the final of the Billie Jean King Cup on merit for the first time since the early 1990s, Raducanu was visibly beaming with relief and satisfaction as she arrived in the interview room, accompanied by her team captain Anne Keothavong.

“It was pretty incredible in that stadium,” said Raducanu, after coming from behind to beat Diane Parry 4-6, 6-1, 7-6. “Like the sound… because it’s such an enclosed space, everything feels so much louder.

“Luckily I have good training. Playing on Arthur Ashe [the main US Open stadium] was honestly something similar, especially when they’re all against you. So I honestly wasn’t impressed with the crowd or the sound. I don’t think that really bothers me, which is probably one of my strengths.

“The level was very high today. My last Fed Cup [actually BJK Cup now, after the 2020 rebrand] tie was in the Czech Republic two years ago. I’m excited to see how far I’ve come, on many counts. I have definitely improved because I feel like I am playing the best tennis of my career and my life.”

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Tennis has rarely been a joyful pastime for Raducanu since that unforgettable evening at Arthur Ashe Stadium two and a half years ago. Her shocking triumph immediately made her a target, both for other players and for tough critics on social media. And when she developed chronic wrist problems that forced her to miss most of last season, she must have wondered if the US Open trophy had become a poisoned chalice.

Could this weekend in Northern France be a turning point? Frustratingly, there are no ranking points available in the BJK Cup, so Raducanu’s ranking remains at a modest number 302. But the expectations surrounding her are a little less stifling these days, while her own physical resilience has begun to improve.

At Le Portel, Raducanu won two demanding three-setters in as many days – the first against world number 23 Caroline Garcia, the second against number 49 Parry – spending a total of five hours on the court. After the win, she thanked Ian Aylward, the experienced fitness trainer who prepared the entire British team.

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain plays a backhand against Caroline Garcia of France during the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier match between France and Great Britain at Le ChaudronEmma Raducanu of Great Britain plays a backhand against Caroline Garcia of France during the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier match between France and Great Britain at Le Chaudron

Raducanu scored two wins in as many days in France – Getty Images/Aurelien Meunier

“I really enjoy it,” she said when asked about the added challenge of playing on smooth red clay. “I feel like my freedom of movement has always been a strength on this surface, it was more my patience and my fitness to stay in the long rallies and build up the points. It’s definitely a budding relationship.”

‘Mentality is one of my strengths’

And what of the extraordinary mental strength that saw her dominate the final set tiebreak despite being awarded two match points by the stubborn Parry twenty minutes earlier?

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“It has been one of my strengths,” Raducanu said of her icy temperament in moments of great stress. “It obviously takes a lot out of you to do that physically and emotionally. But I’m very happy that I was able to do that this weekend. I think that probably hasn’t happened 100 percent in the games I’ve lost. And I know: ‘Okay, this is how it has to be from now on, if I’m going to play matches at that level.’

The decibel levels in Le Chaudron – which aptly translates to ‘The Cauldron’ – were never higher than when Parry saved those match points and broke back for 5-4 in the decider. It looked like Great Britain were destined for another narrow defeat – a recurring theme in this competition – when Raducanu found herself facing break points at 15-40 in her next service game.

“When I was 5-2 up, I hit the mark,” Raducanu remembers. “I hit the ball in the corners. I went for my shots. And so I got up. So I wasn’t going to push the ball around. It was just about the execution, so I just refocused. With two break points down at 5-5, I hit a great ace and she missed her return, which was a huge hold. I played great in the break, to be honest.”

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‘Emma was in a bubble’

Raducanu burst out laughing at her own indiscretion, but this was nothing short of the truth. The only point Parry collected in the tiebreak, which seemed to be over within seconds, came via an unreturnable ace of his own.

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain watches her match against Caroline Garcia of France during the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier match between France and Great BritainEmma Raducanu of Great Britain watches her match against Caroline Garcia of France during the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier match between France and Great Britain

Raducanu was praised for her focus in a difficult atmosphere – Getty Images/Aurelien Meunier

“Emma was in a bubble,” said Keothavong of Raducanu, who has been invited to Stuttgart on Tuesday to face former Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber in her next WTA Tour match. “I think you could see that in the way she approached every point. And you know, no matter how loud the crowd was, how tough everything was out there, she handled herself incredibly well and showed so much grit and determination.

“If she’s in that zone, I can’t say much about the change of targets. She is a player in her class and knows what she is doing. You can tell when she’s in control. And despite not converting the first few match points, the way she was able to regroup was just… I mean, I’m amazed the way she hit that ace on the break point

“For as long as I have followed this competition, this feels like a huge milestone to be able to earn your place in the final,” concluded Keothavong, who also praised British No. 1 Katie Boulter for her previous victory over Clara Burel. “I have always believed that we have players capable of playing at the highest level in this competition. I won’t soon forget that I was finally able to achieve that this week.”

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