My official motto should I ever need one would be simple: Tennis Comes First. And never more so than during Wimbledon fortnight, which I say – without wanting to boast – as a member of the not always successful Ladies’ Third team at my west London lawn tennis club.
I am an equally avid fan of the spectator sport and try to score a thick black line through my diary for the entire fourteen days of the Grand Slam tournament.
Little wonder then that I, like most of the TV viewing public, sat stunned in front of the screen as glorious teen sensation Emma Raducanu went south in SW19 so fast and so scarily on Monday evening.
I’m not a doctor, nor am I a sports psychologist, and far be it from me to opine as freely as others have as to why she crashed out.
I, like most of the TV viewing public, sat stunned in front of the screen as glorious teen sensation Emma Raducanu went south in SW19 so fast and so scarily on Monday evening
Emma Raducanu’s mother puts her hands up to her face during the match on Monday
The player took to Instagram yesterday in a perky post to announce that she felt dizzy and started to breathe heavily, and was advised not to carry on by her team.
By then, Piers Morgan had speculated on Twitter that she had quit because she was losing, and had not shown the temperament of the former champ, John McEnroe; who in his turn had suggested the pressure on the Brit wildcard – the youngest to reach the second week in the Open era and the instant darling of the world’s media – was ‘a little bit too much’. A little bit too much? This must be a contender for understatement of the century.
Let’s just put ourselves in Raducanu’s Persil-white trainers for a moment. Overnight she turned from Bromley teenager whose career earnings before Wimbledon stood at £28,762, into the new golden girl of the sport whose smile alone has been valued by marketers at £3million. She was not only on the back pages of all newspapers – but the front pages too. Let us all simply accept it: the pressure on a photogenic and effervescent young woman of 18 is much greater than it is on a man of the same age.
After all, how many photos of 19-year-old Jack Draper who took a set off Djokovic in the first round, have you seen plastered all over the place? Exactly. I saw Draper play at Queen’s in June, and while the talented lad was met with an enthusiastic reception, the world and his wife did not greet his debut as if it was the second coming, as they did Raducanu.
John McEnroe had suggested the pressure on the Brit wildcard – the youngest to reach the second week in the Open era and the instant darling of the world’s media – was ‘a little bit too much’. A little bit too much? This must be a contender for understatement of the century.
Plus, Raducanu was playing Ajla Tomljanovic, 28, a player with 10 more years’ experience than her opponent.
Wimbledon had scheduled her match in the third slot of the day, presumably to ensure a primetime audience for the top draw of the afternoon, during very unsettled weather. The match might have been expected to begin around teatime, but coming as it did after a five-set thriller complete with rain break, it was 19.53 in the evening before the pair finally walked on to Court No1. By then the debutante had already put in a long, long shift of waiting, practising, and waiting again.
This was never going to be easy for Raducanu, in her first Grand Slam tournament.
The All England Club said it made all its decisions with ‘fairness’ but added that the ‘unpredictable nature of the length of matches and the British weather can and will cause disruption to any schedule’.
Unlike Messrs Morgan and McEnroe, Annabel Croft, a former British number one, has nothing but empathy. Croft has run many miles on grass, clay and other hard bouncy surfaces in Raducanu’s shoes – and retired as a pro aged only 21. ‘With what happened on such a big stage, with so much build up, so much anticipation, I can’t imagine what she went through last night and what she’s feeling,’ Miss Croft told Woman’s Hour.
Unlike Messrs Morgan and McEnroe, Annabel Croft, a former British number one, has nothing but empathy. Pictured: Rachel Johnson (right) with Annabel Croft (left)
Tennis is such an emotional, psychological game – especially the duel of singles. If you’re losing, instead of holding your serve and taking each stroke at a time, it’s easy to start beating yourself up and thinking that with this match, this game, even this single point your life could be over, and go into a death spiral of negativity. Even on the village court.
Just imagine what it’s like then, playing to a capacity crowd in front of a global audience after a nine-hour wait before you strike one yellow Slazenger Wimbledon ball.
‘For a lot of young players happiness does depend on winning a tennis match,’ continued Miss Croft. ‘And if you don’t win and that’s all you’ve done since you were a little child, you feel utterly hopeless.’
The stage was set for one hell of a grand-slam of a panic attack.
Raducanu mustn’t feel hopeless. The only thing she has to fear is fear itself, and I hope she will hearken to the words of Kipling’s ‘If,’ mounted on the wall of the Club Room that she will have passed on her way to Court No 1.
In gleeful anticipation of her undoubted ability to treat both her triumph AND her disaster as the twin imposters they are, I’m already striking out Wimbledon fortnight in my diary for next year.