Aidan Smith: Did Emma Raducanu blast off into space and get back in time for the new Strictly?

It was with some trepidation that I delved into the files to remind myself of what I wrote about Emma Raducanu back in the summer and the nagging worry was that I might have Decca Records-ed her.

Emma Raducanu attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City.
Emma Raducanu attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City.
Emma Raducanu attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City.

Similar to the tragic popbiz predictor who informed the Beatles “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”, had I written off the teenage sensation after she’d had to hirple away from Wimbledon?

The headline on my piece ran “Shoulders still too slim to carry hopes of a nation”. Hang on, hacks have always had this defence: we don’t write the headlines! [Actually, you often do these days - Sports Ed]. Well, although I used the controversial quote from John McEnroe who said that Raducanu’s first-ever Grand Slam tournament had “got a little bit too much for her” - hardly damning but he was criticised for it - most of the article was spent reflecting on how silly and soppy we get when a new great hope in whites emerges and, yes, how much fun that can be, for however long it lasts.

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Maybe other journos can dig out July forecasts of their own proclaiming Raducanu as the real deal and insisting she would win a Slam before long. Bully for them if they did, but they can’t seriously have known this. All any of us reporting on Wimbledon had witnessed were her three victories to reach the fourth round as a fresh-faced, 18-year-old wildcard.

It is perfectly possible to do that and then disappear. In fact, that’s normally what happens. Laura Robson reached the fourth round of both Wimbledon and the US Open. Heather Watson is stuck in third-round hell. The All-England Club is about constants, everything in its right place: the hydrangeas, the barley water … and my neighbour in the press centre, the Daily Mail’s esteemed tennis correspondent, and his sighs of “Oh, Heather” whenever the Guernsey-born Brit falters out on No 13 Court.

Melbourne-born Brit Robson has faltered. The Sydney-born-to-Hungarian-parents Brit Johanna Konta has faltered. But the Toronto-born, half-Romanian, half-Chinese Brit Raducanu hasn’t. What a story! What a triumph! For all of the countries involved who could justifiably claim her as their own but especially - since the age of two when she came to live here, which was the year Prince Harry got togged up as a Nazi, Robert Kilroy-Silk launched his anti-immigration party and another political tribe chose David Cameron as their leader - Britain!

Do we need Emma more than these other countries? Maybe right now, given everything, we do. We will insist that we crave a tennis champion more than them, even though Wimbledon is sometimes referred to as a two-week sporting festival for people who don’t actually like sport. And we might well claim that our love for tennis is different to elsewhere, that it’s more chaste, more pure (e.g. did you hear that ghastly American woman at the Flushing Meadows ceremony blurting about how much money Raducanu had won? Ugh!)

This has been Emma Raducanu Week, soon to be extended to Emma Raducanu Month. Everyone has wanted a piece of her, including The Spectator, whose commentator begins: “I’ve just been looking at photographs of Emma Raducanu again, this time focusing on her upper chest.” (Don’t worry, the writer isn’t perving, even though he probably wants you to think this for a brief moment - it’s the crucifix she wears which intrigues him).

A gift from God, it seems, via Romania, China, etc, Raducanu has been everywhere and will continue to be. Was she responsible for that Cabinet reshuffle? Has she been on the space mission Inspiration4, where “ordinary people” were circling the Earth for three days even though she can’t be called ordinary anymore? Did she get back in time last night to present then compete then judge in the new Strictly?

Crikey, just imagine if she’d won Wimbledon. The Home Counties flailing in near-orgasmic ecstasy would have necessitated Boris Johnson declaring a state of emergency across the entire region, with retained firemen and retired vicars on red-alert and Kent completely locked down. But because our girl triumphed in far-off New York where they don't really like winners, fairytales, glamour and talking about money, the reaction has been measured, restrained and grown-up.

We wish. You have to wade through a Henman Hill-sized amount of words written about Raducanu to find the interesting stuff. Not the Met Gala or the Chanel dress or the Tiffany earrings, but: “Tennis star thanks ‘very hard-to-please’ parents for the strength to succeed.” This is really interesting: do we get it wrong in Britain, gushingly over-praising from the touchlines so the first proper setback for our darling prodigies comes as a mighty shock? I bet it’s not prizes-for-everyone in Romania.

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Yesterday, in the latest Raducanu dispatch, we learned of her 88-year-old grandmother’s worries over her dizzying rise. Niculina Raducanu in Bucharest couldn’t bear to watch last Saturday’s final, fearing she’d have a heart attack. Looking back on Wimbledon, when Emma had to retire because of breathing difficulties, she said: “I asked her parents if she should quit tennis.”

That isn’t going to happen now and from the top of the staircase at the Met Gala all the way to the summit of the Empire State Building, Raducanu has found the air much more to her liking. Now we must hope that the “team” to which she often defers, and which is currently being enlarged by strategists, conceptualists and others with funny titles, will look after her well and not allow her head to be turned by all the hype and hoopla.

That’s a serious responsibility. Niculina’s granddaughter, and Ian and Renee’s daughter, has become an industry and a brand. If you thought last week was bonkers, just wait. There are only 294 sleeps until she plays Wimbledon again, by which time Henman Hill will almost certainly have been renamed Raducanu Ridge.

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