Raducanu takes care of business, now she just needs to manage Wimbledon hype

Emma Raducanu has flawless instinct in deflecting hype but, whisper it quietly, she is starting to generate some buzz again.

Managing expectations and just ‘having fun’ are stock phrases since she arrived at the All England Club, injury free and playing with a confidence we’ve not seen for months.

But when you become a Grand Slam champion at 18, it’s pretty hard to stop others getting a bit carried away.

Raducanu dominated Belgium’s Elise Mertens – a player ranked 102 places above her – to progress to her first Grand Slam third round since winning the US Open in 2021.

Mertens didn’t help herself with a succession of unforced errors in the 6-1 6-2 defeat but Raducanu’s power game looked on point in a match that lasted barely an hour on a partisan No.1 Court.

“When my character shows through my tennis is when I play my best,” she said.

“I had so much fun and I really fed off that atmosphere. I think I played some really good tennis and I took care of business. I’m really pleased that I’ve extended my stay for a couple more days.

“The important thing is to just focus on myself, I’ve got to stay in the zone and in my own little world.

“I’m really happy with the improvements I’ve made to my game. I knew all the hard work would lead to something and I’m so happy to be reaping some rewards at Wimbledon.

“I think I played well but it’s not my best match since the US Open, I’ve played other games I was probably more happy with.”

Next up is Greece’s Maria Sakkari, the No.9 seed, whose Wimbledon record is far from stellar – reaching the third round just twice in seven visits.

They’ve played just once before – when Raducanu won in straight sets in the US Open semi-finals. Another omen? Absolutely not insists the Brit.

“The circumstances are totally different,” she added. “The dynamics are different, I was totally unknown when I played her last. She is a top ten player and I’m outside the world’s top 100. I’m the complete underdog.

“It’s easy to get caught up with things that have happened in the past and see all these parallels but no situation is the same.”

Sakkari wasn’t having that though, throwing the pressure back on Raducanu, who she claims has nothing to lose.

“If I’m not playing someone who is better ranked than me I’m always going to be the target,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for her to beat a top ten player.

“We know she is very talented. She will be the favourite at home. I watch a lot of tennis but she’s not played too many tournaments and I’ve really not seen her recent matches.

“I really don’t think about that US Open match. It was meant to be for Emma, if she never wins anything else, it was written in the stars for her that week.”

A measure of Raducanu’s ambition not to take things too seriously this week was her decision to play mixed doubles with Andy Murray, in his last appearance at the All England Club.

It’s only Murray’s second appearance in the mixed doubles here, having teamed up with Serena Williams to reach the third round in 2019. However, he did win Olympic silver with Laura Robson at Wimbledon in 2012.

“It’s took 10 seconds to say yes. My doubles record isn’t the best but you can’t say no to Andy Murray,” said Raducanu.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a young girl. Andy is a hero to all of us, it’s just a gift and honour to be asked. Hopefully I can learn a thing or too from him about coming to the net.

“When I look back at my career I’ll be able to have a memory of playing here with Andy Murray, that’s incredibly special. Wimbledon is Andy Murray and Andy Murray is Wimbledon.”

Raducanu’s successes mean she’ll always bask in the glare of the spotlight here but arguably the better British performance was from qualifier Sonay Kartal.

The 22-year-old reached her first Grand Slam third round – where she’ll play world No.2 Coco Gauff – with a gutsy 6-3 5-7 6-3 triumph over France’s Clara Burel.

Kartal is only ranked a couple of places inside the world’s top 300 but was recognised for her potential with a place on the LTA’s Lexus-sponsored Pro Scholarship Programme. She has banked a guaranteed £143,000 for her efforts so far, half her career earnings to date.

“This will propel me into playing the bigger tournaments and be on the bigger stage, which is what I want to be doing at the end of the day,” she said.

“These are the moments you dream of as a little kid. Obviously it’s going to be a tough match, but if I can continue my form, I’ll give myself a good chance.

“There’s a reason why she is number two in the world, but at the end of the day I’m going to put all of that aside.

“If it is Centre Court, I’ll be super excited and super proud to be on that court. It’s a really special thing.

“Ultimately, it’s who you’re playing the other side of the net. I’m going to go on there, have nothing to lose, and I’m just going to enjoy the moment and give it everything and see what I can do.”

For the latest action on the British summer grass court season, check out the LTA website

Image: Reuters via Beat Media Group subscription

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