Not many people would have seen that coming. I’m talking of course of last Saturday evening and the women’s final at the US Open. Who would have guessed what the lady did next? She sat down and wrote Emma Raducanu a letter.
OK, it probably wasn’t the Queen who wrote it. Some flunky would have done that, and then the message was rolled out once the Bromley biffer had nailed Leylah Fernandez with a crisp service ace way beyond the bemused and increasingly tetchy Canadian’s forehand.
The establishment took a long time to acknowledge the feats of sportsmen and, more especially, of sportswomen. Administrators, blazers and athletes who weighed in after they had retired from competitive sport were usually the first to be recognised with gongs. It was many more years before active sports people felt the tap from the royal blade: men such as jockey Gordon Richards in 1953, and footballer Stanley Matthews in 1965. Many others brought honour to their country with barely a nod, such as another tennis ace, Fred Perry, who won three successive Wimbledons in the 1930s.
Since then, the benefits of being linked to sporting success have been grasped ever more eagerly by politicians and royals. The media is already awash with speculation that an honour might soon be heading Emma’s way — even, heaven forbid, a damehood. But who would have guessed that royal recognition would have been so prompt, a message from Her Maj zinging across the pond to arrive with the blizzard of other plaudits that greeted Raducanu as she stepped off court in New York.
But she is a class act, her Maj, though not known for her love of tennis (she’s been to Wimbledon four times, I think). The royals have been shipping a lot of flak and better a congratulatory pat for a much-loved star than yet more headlines about dodgy billionaires or American paedophiles.
Emma’s a class act too, and the journey from trauma at Wimbledon to dealing almost effortlessly with a situation even more nerve--shredding is compelling. Sports psychologists, who were just an optional extra a few years ago, are now an essential. And how good will she be? How many majors? Some say 20, some say 12. It could be one (hello Sue Barker). She has said that any girl on the tour could win a major — a bit like golf if the stars align (hello Danny Willett). But even if it is just the one, she’s lifted an entire nation. Especially since the cricket had been called off .
Raducanu is such a charmer, she even managed to slip in a nod to the LTA. It’s taken some hammering in the past, particularly from parents who look for someone to blame for their precious darlings not breaking into the big time, when really they’re not much good. Great tennis players are inherently brilliant; they are not manufactured by tennis associations, which is why it was so admirable of Raducanu, along with everything else she accomplished on Saturday, to thank the LTA for their help.
Right now, what she needs is someone to help keep her normal. There are her parents, obviously, but how about Andy Murray, who has already been a support? His father-in-law used to be her coach, though, so they might need to get over that.
The Ryder Cup will be the poorerwithout Justin Rose: he has a very good record at Whistling Straits and terrific form in the Cup. He’s a victim of the peculiarities of a selection process whereby points at the start of the 12 months count as much as those at the end. So players like Tommy Fleetwood may have had a good first six months yet have recently been out of form. The US will be hot favourites. But we’ve heard that before…