Former British No1 Jo Konta has backed teenager Emma Raducanu to cope with the ever more fierce spotlight she will encounter as the new home star since a stunning US Open success last year.
Raducanu became sporting A-List with her sensational run to the title in New York aged just 18, resulting in a phenomenal level of attention and commercial offers of endorsements that went into the tens of millions of pounds, and almost off the scale.
Her progress since has not always been the smoothest, parting ways with two coaches and suffering a string of niggling injuries. There was another one at the recent Nottingham event, a side strain that is still a concern just days before her scheduled first-round match against dangerous Belgian opponent Alison Van Uytvanck. Raducanu cancelled her scheduled Friday afternoon practice session, triggering more speculation about her likely participation despite a morning training session.
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Raducanu’s agent had already sprung to her defence this week about the time being spent on her sponsorship commitments, insisting that they only took up a maximum of 18 days a year of her time off.
Konta never won a slam or had to cope with quite the same level of interest currently being experienced by Raducanu - but was regularly seen as the great British hope of lifting the women’s singles title, and reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon five years ago in her best run.
Konta, 31, said: “I think Emma has shown how she is already dealing with the immense spotlight that has so drastically and literally found her. It was a very dramatic entrance onto the tennis scene that she got to have. That was incredible – but also probably incredibly hard.
“She has already shown that she is taking things in her own stride, seems very self-assured with the way she talks about herself and her journey. And honestly my advice is to keep doing what she is doing, because she seems to know who she is, is also open to learning and is keen to learn.
“She is very much going to be looking forward to playing, and doing the obligations that she has to do but not spending more time than she needs to on them.
“Her scheduled first round is a tough match, Alison is a very capable player on the grass. But there are no easy matches any more in the first round onwards and for years now. It will be another great opportunity for Emma to come out, hopefully she is fit and healthy, and she can put in a good performance for herself.
“I never looked too much at the draw, but more at the schedule. Obviously with the first-round draw you find out who you have a few days before at a grand slam, and thereafter it was a schedule conversation for me.
“Interestingly I never felt more pressure or more stress around Wimbledon. I was very fortunate that I was able to stay at home for the majority of those Championships to play, and so it had a very homely feel about it for me. And my favourite part of playing was always entertainment. It was playing in front of people, it was rising to the occasion and absorbing all the energy that the crowd infuse into the stadium.
“So for me it was a joy and never a chore or taxing. There is always energy management that comes with any big event, especially the slams that are two weeks long. A lot of energy gets absorbed. But I never felt Wimbledon was harder than any of the other ones.”
Meanwhile Konta, currently expecting her first child, also reflected on both her reasons for retiring at just 30 – and the humbling experience of fans passing on their appreciation for moments they enjoyed watching during her career.
Speaking to Clare Balding on the BBC, she added: “I didn’t stop playing because I stopped loving the sport. I absolutely love the sport still. And if someone gave me a racquet and said you are guaranteed to be at the highest level no matter what at the best tournaments I’d take it, of course I’d take it.
“However it asks a big price for you to be able to do that and it takes all of you to put yourself in that position and I just ran out of energy for that part and that is why I stopped, it just wasn’t for me anymore. I love the game, I don’t yet watch it so much as a spectator but as time goes I’ll watch it more and more.
“I definitely have had small realisations of my achievements. The past six months or so there were moments of ‘You know what, I really was actually a good player’. I did become an exceptionally good player. Obviously I never got to achieve my childhood dream of winning slams or becoming world No1. However I could very easily not have achieved as much as I even have.
“So I feel very grateful and very fortunate, and I got to entertain thousands and thousands of people at home and abroad. As my career progressed I made more room to express that gratefulness and awareness for how lucky I was to be in the position I was.
“It has been surprising at Nottingham and in Eastbourne to have people coming up to me and saying ‘Oh my goodness, you were one of my favourite players, you are my mum’s favourite player, you gave us so much joy’. Being retired and hearing that still now, that is very moving because I impacted people’s lives in entertainment and viewing sport. It is not something you are fully aware of while you are playing, but you are very humbled by it.”