Emma Raducanu’s Carousel of Coaches and Why Doing ‘Pretty Crazy Things’ Can Pay Off

Emma Raducanu makes her French Open debut when the Grand Slam starts on Sunday
dates: May 22-5 June Event location: Roland Garros, Paris
Coverage: Live text and radio commentary from selected matches on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website and app

Emma Raducanu achieved an A level at last year’s French Open – now she is 12th in the world rankings as a US Open champion as she prepares for her Roland Garros debut.

Ever since the fairy tale of New York, Raducanu found wins and fitness hard to come by—as are many 19-year-olds in their first full year on tour.

But unlike most in that position, Raducanu has switched coaches many times and has been able to secure lucrative contracts with eight global brands.

She has understandably struggled with the huge public profile she took on so quickly, becoming more withdrawn from others on tour. Building a long-term relationship with a coach may therefore seem beneficial, but traditionally that is not the way of Raducanu.

“I think they want someone who can challenge her tennis IQ, and there are very few people who can,” says one person with knowledge of the family.

A carousel of coaches

Nigel Sears left the scene after Raducanu’s run to the fourth round of Wimbledon last year, and Andrew Richardson was given a contract until the end of the US Open, which was ultimately not renewed despite that unforgettable victory in September.

Torben Beltz was appointed in November, but gone at the end of April after only seeing 10 WTA matches.

The LTA’s head of women’s tennis, Iain Bates, traveled to Madrid and Rome with Raducanu this month, but much of the technical work over the past six weeks has been carried out by the LTA’s senior performance adviser, Louis Cayer.

Best known for his work with doubles players like Jamie Murray, Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski, Cayer is credited with recent improvements to Raducanu’s technique. Both Emma and her father Ian would enjoy Cayer’s forensic approach and video analysis.

But perhaps the most important appointment of the year will be Raducanu’s new batting partner. Raymond Sarmiento practices with her this week at the National Tennis Center in London and will be part of the team at Roland Garros – and for the foreseeable future, if all goes according to plan.

The 29-year-old American has been in the top 300 in the world and was Raducanu’s batting partner at Indian Wells last October.

The Raducanu approach to coaching

“You can’t keep going left and right,” said an insider I spoke to recently. A much-repeated fear is that coaches will no longer be tempted by the inevitable short-term nature of a role at Raducanu.

But others don’t see it that way at all.

“They exhaust the resources and knowledge of coaches quite quickly, and then of course they want the next one,” they said.

“When people do things differently, the whole world looks at it and finds it bizarre because nobody has done it this way before.

“But I’m not that skeptical, because I’ve seen too many people doing crazy things, and it turns out to be gold mines.”

The Raducanu approach to coaching is well summed up by another observer who knows the family.

“If a coach doesn’t work, it just gets done,” they said.

“So I wasn’t surprised with Torben [Beltz] go, see how she was playing. It didn’t really feel like she’d made any kind of improvement.

“Obviously it’s brutal and there will be a trail of coaches towards the end of her career I’m sure.

“But there’s another side to it. I’ve actually always found them remarkably respectful of people who maybe they shouldn’t respect. Their attitude is that maybe they have that one piece of gold, and Ian will examine them for an hour until they find it .

“I think they want someone who can challenge her tennis IQ and there are very few people who can. I think that’s quite hard for them to understand and digest.

“I think they sign up with coaches, and then they get pretty disappointed because they don’t know as much as they thought they knew.”

The father who divides the opinions

Ian Raducanu is said to have a “constant thirst for information” by one tennis insider, but by another “obsessed with peripheral details”.

When asked how best to describe him, “demanding, analytical, opinionated and personal” were some of the adjectives chosen in response.

He has been very hard on his daughter in the past. Some refer to emotional blackmail and talk about Emma’s tears and Ian’s periods of silence.

British player Naomi Broady, whose father Simon has always been the dominant figure in her career (and who hasn’t spoken to his son Liam for three years), thinks strong parental involvement is a huge plus.

“Emma and I wanted to play doubles together on the grass last summer,” she said.

“Her wrist hurt a bit and her father told her outright not to play doubles in Nottingham.

“It was a clear ‘no’, and I texted Emma that night saying I know it will be really hard sometimes, but always remember that every decision he makes will be in your favor. He will be the only person you don’t have to question his motives.”

Raducanu is also very inquisitive and analytical, and can have strong opinions. She is expected to develop greater independence from her father over the next few years, but he will continue to be an influential figure in her career.

“I would say Emma is in control, but he is and always will be a very big influence. It’s not like she’s going to make a decision without discussing it with him, but I do know she’s made decisions he doesn’t necessarily agree,” one person sums it up.

The road ahead of us

Emma Raducanu
Raducanu has required medical treatment several times on the track this year

A Grand Slam title at 18 and a world ranking at 12 at 19 opens many doors – but the anticipation and profile that comes with it is a heavy cross to bear.

Signing deals with eight blue chip companies eliminates the need for overdrafts, but comes with an expectation of performance and a significant number of business days.

The US Open champion seemed to me especially busy in the first months of this year. That’s based on personal experience and the testimony of others who say she didn’t always text back and responded less to those who went out of their way to make her feel welcome.

None of them are even remotely surprising. Especially if you remember that in February a 35-year-old man received a five-year restraining order for making unsolicited trips to her childhood home.

Raducanu’s prospects seem to have improved in recent weeks – helped no doubt by five wins on the clay when she made her professional debut on the surface. Based on this year’s results alone, she’s just outside the top 50 — making her the fourth most successful teen in the world.

The back injury that forced her to withdraw from the Italian Open remains a frustration, as does the hip problem and frequent blisters from earlier in the season. Raducanu will likely learn to stress less injuries as she gets older, but they are not uncommon at this stage of her career – especially as December’s crucial pre-season training block was ruined after she tested positive for Covid.

“Her tennis prowess is way ahead of her physical development,” said an insider.

And the feeling within the sport is that when her body catches up, Emma Raducanu could stop for a moment.

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