There’s only one sports story in town these days – and that is the incredible young tennis talent from Bromley that is Emma Raducanu.
We were all waiting for history to be made at the US Open this year as Novak Djokovic pursued his Grand Slam dream, and that was the achievement we thought might be the catalyst for increased tennis participation.
But, while Djokovic’s dream disintegrated against Daniil Medvedev at Flushing Meadows– and with it one of his tennis racquets in a quite brutal temper tantrum after a lost point – Raducanu was basking in having made her wildest dreams become a reality just 24 hours earlier.
Her incredible success, all done with a joyous smile on her face and with those wonderfully engaging post-match interviews with the media, was in stark contrast to the intensity and explosiveness of Djokovic’s meltdown in the final. And it probably says a lot about what intensity, and pressure can do to spoil the game for you and why playing with freedom and laughter is the true key to success.
Certainly Raducanu’s success is what all those involved in getting people more active in sport were talking about after finals weekend.
The BBC were quick to speak with Kate Dale, the campaign lead for This Girl Can, who said the history-making 18-year-old can help others discover a love of sport.
Raducanu became the first British woman in 44 years to win a Grand Slam singles title and the effect, said Dale, will be felt for a generation.
“It’s another example of a fantastic achievement of women’s sport,” Dale told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I think she is a role model for women and girls, and I’m sure for boys and men in so many ways. I think it’s not just the fact that she won, but the way that she did it – the style, the composure, the level-headedness that she’s had throughout has just been extraordinary.”
This Girl Can was founded in 2015 by Sport England to get more young women and children active and the latest sport participation research from Sport England shows that boys (47%) remained?more likely to be active than girls (43%).?
The campaign is all about changing perceptions of sport that may have stopped girls taking part in activity in the past like being fearful of being teased and a lack of belief.
But Dale said Raducanu’s displays in New York can help show girls belong as much as boys do in the sports world.
“Three months ago Raducanu was doing her A-levels – I think that is part of her appeal as is the fact she does feel like someone we could all know. She’s very relatable,” she told the BBC.
“You have to see yourself or imagine yourself doing it, although obviously most of us are never going to achieve anything like that level. That doesn’t matter and that is our point with This Girl Can.
“You are doing it for your reasons, your motivation and the reasons it works for you. It doesn’t have to be up at that level but just somebody going out there and living her best life really inspires us all to do that.”
It is now up to the Lawn Tennis Association to feed off the impact she has had to increase tennis participation in England.
National tennis participation figures are up eight per cent over the past 18 months, which is hugely encouraging for the sport.
Three-time major winner Andy Murray added: “What [Raducanu] did in New York was very special. It is a huge boost for British tennis and gives hopefully the governing bodies an opportunity to capitalise on that and get more and more kids involved in the sport. It’s great what she did and a huge opportunity for British tennis now.”
Murray is all too aware though that success like Raducanu has had – or his own – is no guarantee of a legacy of increased participation.
Writing in The Telegraph, Simon Briggs spoke with Calvin Betton, a seasoned tennis coach based in Leeds, who warned that there might be an immediate influx of people on the courts in this country, but it is how to keep them there which will prove the toughest challenge.
“If you are the LTA now, the easy thing is to push participation,” Betton told Briggs. “You can focus on roadshows, set up inflatable tennis courts, say: ‘Yeah, it was great – we got 200 kids there.’ The harder thing is the next stage.
“Of course, it’s good to get more children running around on park courts. But how many join a club or play tournaments? You want to boost the domestic competitive structure and so raise the baseline of quality, because the goal is to be producing a steady stream of solid tour players, rather than a light sprinkling boosted by the occasional generational phenomenon.”
But, as Gavin Sutcliffe, a Participation Development Partner for the LTA North Region, told the Yorkshire Post, there is a chance that the Raducanu effect might be greater than Murray’s because of the way she “transcends the sport.”
He said: “She’s a marketable star, an approachable person and she will appeal to a lot of young people.”
Sportside relished every minute of Raducanu’s US Open journey and cannot wait to see what is next for her – and tennis participation in this country – after the glory of Flushing Meadows.