CINCINNATI — A little girl from a small town in Serbia has become an overnight sensation and a first-ballot Hall of Famer in her adopted country of the United Kingdom. Emma Raducanu moved to New York City three years ago to be with her tennis mentor, and this week she was invited to play with the Duchess of Cambridge, one of tennis’ biggest stars and familiar at home for her signature hair color.
Raducanu, 17, won’t turn 18 until November, so like any day would mean the moment she would realize the life change she’s had since boarding a plane for the first time as a teenager.
“When I was on holiday a couple of years ago, she was playing tennis,” said Raducanu, whose mother works for a Serbian travel company. “We went to Australia, New Zealand, when we went there in 2016, and we were both in the hotel when her mom was meeting her friend and we were discussing her tennis program.
“I was only 16 at the time. You become a tennis fan or you watch your favorite player. So she introduced me to tennis and she told me who was around. That was when I learned about John McEnroe, at the time I was really serious about tennis, and I was thinking I want to meet tennis players.
“I was lucky that my mom’s boss said I could travel to the United States with her. She’s shown me so much. She’s helping me and seeing me mature. I was 16 when I went to the USA and she said you will go to New York and meet different people and how would you feel?”
Raducanu added that it’s not easy in New York to come to USA.
“It’s difficult to be young and not know anyone. When I played my first match at D.C. Center I did not know anyone. It was my first competition. Everyone told me ‘this is an amazing place and you should be there.’ I was not from Washington so I was there by myself.
“But on that court, I feel safe. I could move around. I knew the people on the court. I feel more comfortable to play against an opponent who is not new to the courts.”
Raducanu (who was born Radudelica and uses it as her nickname), has now recorded eight ATP main draw wins this year including her comeback win over fifth-ranked Simona Halep on the hard court of Cincinnati. That breakthrough came in a 15-minute span midway through the match.
Raducanu and Maria Sharapova are the only two players to beat Halep at this event in the last 10 years. That performance will be rewarded when Raducanu, ranked No. 67 in the world, makes her American debut in Washington D.C. next week. And after a week off following the Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic event in Cincinnati, Raducanu hopes to add to that win total of eight before heading to Eastbourne, England for the grass-court championships.
“Maria and I won here. I think I will have many more wins here. It’s amazing to beat Halep.”
Raducanu grew up watching her countryman Novak Djokovic on television after her mother, who became a tennis coach and travels for a travel company in Manchester, England.
But she never saw Djokovic in person. Then she saw him at the 2017 Australian Open on his way to winning his 11th major singles title, his third in a row.
Raducanu joined the leadership group as a teenager, and her love for tennis was fueled. Now she is a rising star on an emerging tennis circuit in the UK as well as part of her country’s beloved men’s team.
Raducanu, who showed off her wig for her first time to the duchess for this photo op, showed off one more unique accessory during the middle of her interview on Wimbledon Week.
“I’m an Ole Miss fan.”