Roger Alton

The parallels between Anna Kournikova and Emma Raducanu

Who can turn lying on a hospital gurney into a photo op? Emma Raducanu can, of course – beaming as she showed off her bandaged wrist and arm, in a photo of such quality it didn’t look like it was snapped by a passing nurse’s iPhone. It left me with a renewed sense of foreboding about Raducanu’s future in tennis.

The tennis prodigy, who won the US Open two years ago, is super–talented and a wonderful athlete, but her 10,000 hours of practice must be receding into the background. That is the amount of time, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Outliers, that in the upper realms of excellence marks out the consistently high achiever. It applies no matter who you are, Gladwell writes: neither Mozart nor the chess great Bobby Fischer would have made it without putting in those hours.

A friend’s 11-year-old granddaughter said to me: ‘I remember Raducanu saying she hasn’t been able to practise physically but she was mentally prepared.’ What use will mental preparation on a hospital bed be on a circuit dominated by ferociously hard-hitting alpha females who want to stick it to someone they are starting to imagine is just another flaky Brit who got lucky in the Big Apple? No matter how jolly Aryna Sabalenka is said to be, it is hard to suppose that the hugely talented Belarussian, who has just notched up another big title on clay in Madrid, would be willing to go easy on the young Brit when she makes progress in a future tournament. If she ever does.

What use will mental preparation on a hospital bed be on a circuit dominated by hard-hitting alpha females?

If not, I am sure Raducanu will soon appear as a knowledgeable and charming pundit for the BBC at Wimbledon, where she will become a national treasure in no time.

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