So, Emma, where did it all go wrong? This question has shades of the George Best legend – in which the hotel bellhop utters the immortal phrase while delivering champagne to Best’s luxury hotel room.
In the case of Raducanu she’s a multi-millionaire at age 19 with nearly a dozen endorsement deals† “I’m a slam champion,” she told reporters in a confident and cheerful press conference on Wednesday night: “If anything, the pressure is on those who haven’t.”
And yet Raducanu’s results since the US Open have been mediocre at best. In the first six months of this season, she has had nine wins and 12 defeats, with the most recent return comes on Wednesday against France’s Caroline Garcia†
What has changed, what are the reasons and what can be done about it?
The problems with Raducanu .’s game can be diagnosed in a sentence. To adapt a line from Bill Clinton’s White House: “It’s the forehand, stupid.”
If you go back and watch Wednesday’s game against Garcia, you don’t see Raducanu’s forehand spray errors. The problem is she wasn’t doing everything with the ball.
As one coach put it, “She just put her forehand back in the court, and that allowed Garcia to play the game entirely on her own terms.” It was almost as if Raducanu was the straight woman in a comedy skit, setting up the jokes so the other person could put them away.
This was not the Raducanu who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon last year. And it certainly wasn’t Raducanu who won September’s US Open.
In New York, she was always in her opponent’s face, taking her time and harassing almost every shot. What a difference from Wednesday, when Garcia must have felt like she was in a daze.
To understand the regression in Raducanu’s forehand, you need to look at its history.
Her double-handed backhand has always been her favorite wing. It’s completely natural, a shot she doesn’t even have to think about, and her sound engineering ensures it never folds under pressure.
The forehand is a different story. Raducanu grew up hitting forehands with a very closed “semi-western” grip, and spent the past two or three years trying to open that grip.
This restoration work was started by Belgian coach Philip Dehaes, and then Mark Petchey took over when the pandemic prevented Dehaes from crossing the Channel from his native Belgium.
At the US Open, her mechanics were as perfect as anyone could expect. Raducanu ran into the ball early on, took it up front and transferred her weight beautifully through the shot. But these weren’t skills deeply rooted in her tennis psyche. Everything just came together perfectly for those magical three weeks.
Since the US Open, Raducanu’s forehand has begun to slip back into old habits, and she has lost confidence in the shot. It has become stiff and extremely undervalued by the standards it aspires to.
There’s no sign of the forehand in line — the high-risk, high-reward option — that had such an impact on its opponents in New York. Even the forehand drive volleys she used to great effect last year have completely disappeared from her game.
This too is simple. Raducanu needs a coach. Not a consultant like Louis Cayer, nor a childhood mentor like Jane O’Donoghue – although they are both excellent tennis people. She needs someone to take the reins and dictate how she practices. Right now, she’s shaping her own training patterns and drilling bad habits even deeper into her muscle memory.
“You would probably only need four to six weeks to get the forehand in shape,” said one coach. “But it’s a matter of committing to a philosophy of what you’re trying to do. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern to what’s going on right now, with all the chopping and changing. So even if you solved the problem, it probably wouldn’t stay solved for long.”
Worryingly, people close to the Raducanus say there is little prospect of a major long-term appointment. Her father, Ian, is known for having a low opinion of coaches in general. He believes they are best used in short bursts, as most only have one or two useful things to say.
Ian Raducanu is also said to complain about how expensive the whole sport is, even though his daughter earns up to £10million a year from endorsements. Feedback from coaches polled about potential work with Emma suggests the family may be reluctant to invest.
Is Ian wrong? It has already achieved spectacular success. And yet suspicion grows that his pick-and-mix approach is better suited to breeding a champion than keeping her at the top of the game.
“I look at the way Emma’s tennis has deteriorated since last summer, and it’s worrying,” said one veteran coach.
“Remember how Eugenie Bouchard had that one incredible season in 2014 where she beat a stack of top players and made it to the Wimbledon final?” the coach added. “What happened next was that Bouchard seemed to be interested in fashion and photo shoots and we hardly saw her on the big stage anymore.
“If Emma doesn’t do anything to resolve her coaching situation, and do it quickly, I’m afraid she’ll go down the same road.”