Emma Raducanu: 'I'm very patient - if I keep working to improve, results will follow'

The former US Open champion talks to The National ahead of the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, where she continues her return from long-term injury

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Thankfully, Emma Raducanu’s enduring memory from her previous visits to Abu Dhabi is not the time she caught Covid-19 a couple of years ago.

“I was staying on Saadiyat Island and the sand was so soft,” she told The National. “As an athlete I travel the world so much, so I have a lot of good reference points, and I can honestly say the sand was some of the softest I’ve ever been on!”

That was during Raducanu’s first trip to the capital in December 2021 when she was scheduled to compete in an exhibition against Ons Jabeur at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Unfortunately, the positive coronavirus test scuppered those plans.

Raducanu returned 12 months later for her belated friendly match with Jabeur and is now back in a more official capacity for the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, for which she received a wild card.

In a way, Abu Dhabi has seen the three stages of Raducanu’s career so far. She first came to the city as tennis’ latest sensation, three months after her historic Grand Slam triumph at the US Open. The second marked her return to the court after three months out injured – the first signs of the fitness problems that would limit her 2023 season and halt her prodigious progress.

Now the emirate is the latest stop on Raducanu’s comeback journey. After calling time on last season just four months into the year, to undergo wrist and ankle surgeries, the Briton is taking it all one gradual step at a time.

“I’m still finding my feet on the match court, I’m not fully there but that will come with time,” said Raducanu, who reached the second round at the Brisbane International and Australian Open in her first two tournaments this year. “I’m very patient and very grateful to enjoy what I’m doing.

“I’m just trying to improve my game because I’m not the finished product, far from it. I feel like now is the time to start because I’ve had some illness and injuries over the couple of years since [winning the US Open], so I’m looking forward to working on my game, improving my level and the results will take care of themselves.”

It is a measured and mature approach for someone who only turned 21 last November, even more so for someone who enjoyed such a sharp and sudden rise to stardom following her remarkable success in New York. Up to that point in her professional career, Raducanu didn’t need to practise patience at all.

Of course, Raducanu is no ordinary 21-year-old. She was already generating headlines earlier in the summer of 2021 when she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon on debut, but her history-making feats at the US Open as an 18-year-old – becoming the first qualifier in the Open era to win a major title – sent her into the stratosphere.

Overnight, Raducanu became one of the most famous and marketable athletes in the world, but with that came an intense spotlight and constant scrutiny. It also saw Raducanu surge into the WTA Tour’s top 10, regularly placing her as a top seed at tournaments arguably before she was truly ready. Any hopes of learning on the job were essentially dashed with the onset of her many injuries.

Given all she has experienced and achieved so far and her status in the game, it’s easy to forget that Raducanu is still a relative newcomer; 2022 was her first full season on the WTA Tour. Since then, there’s been more time on the injury table than on the tennis court.

Still, the time away has taught Raducanu some valuable lessons. And now that she is injury-free, the former British No 1 is only looking forward.

“I’ve never really had the chance to do proper training weeks back-to-back. For six or seven months, before I ended up having the surgeries, I was only practising one or two hours a day just to limit the load on the wrists,” she said.

“In a way, it’s frustrating that the last couple of years haven’t been how I’ve wanted but I think we take a lesson from everything and now is the time to start that work, and I’m really enjoying it.”

The immediate focus is on her first-round assignment in Abu Dhabi against Czech world No 36 Marie Bouzkova on Monday – a “tough match and a great challenge”, Raducanu said. A deep run will no doubt help Raducanu climb back up the rankings from her current position of No 295, but her targets for this season are more abstract.

“For me, success would be seeing my level improving in practice first and then in matches. I know that when my level will be there, putting it into a match will take some time to apply. But I know that seeing the level increase, that results will follow,” Raducanu said, before adding: “Also, I would love to win a title of any grade.”

Updated: February 06, 2024, 5:43 AM