Emma Raducanu comes to Indian Wells as the “it” player in women’s tennis. She is the player everyone wants to watch, the person everyone wants to talk about, the athlete whose future seems to contain limitless possibilities.
It is easy and understandable to talk about Raducanu as The Next Big Thing, the generationally dominant tennis player who will capture the imagination of tennis fans around the globe. The impulse to elevate an 18-year-old athlete after she attains a remarkable — even unfathomable — achievement is natural to human beings. How could one NOT be blown away by what Raducanu did in New York?
Yet, Raducanu — as brilliant as she was at the U.S. Open, winning a first major championship after just three main-tour events — has won only one tournament. She didn’t put together a full hardcourt season. She didn’t dominate the WTA for six or seven months. This was a three-week conquest (three weeks because she was a qualifier; most major titles are two-week triumphs) in one city at one event.
Plenty of tennis players, women and men, have had the tournament of a lifetime and then have failed to replicate it for the rest of their careers. One-hit wonders are part of the landscape in tennis and golf.
YES, Raducanu did something truly extraordinary at the U.S. Open. She became the first qualifier in 53 years of Open Era tennis to win a major. No other qualifier had ever done what she did. Her feat is genuinely unprecedented in the sport’s professional history. She certainly has the repeatable strokes, strong defense, calm nerves, clutch serving, and overall versatility of a player who could become special and magical for a long time. The potential is there.
Yet, as we all know, these kinds of processes can’t be rushed. Attaining long-term mastery is a slow journey, whereas one tournament and one explosive moment of brilliance confers instant stardom and global fame upon an athlete who must then learn how to handle it all.
Look at Naomi Osaka. She does have four major titles at age 23, which is very impressive, but the process of becoming great has taken its toll on her. Osaka is emotionally exhausted and looking for a reset button in her career. The idea that Osaka will become a 10- or 15-time major champion is certainly not ludicrous, but the possibility of burnout is real and ever-present.
People around the world might hope Emma Raducanu becomes a super-duperstar, a blindingly luminous uber-achiever who soars to the stratosphere. Having a wish or hope is fine, but expecting athletes — especially at 18 — to become iconically great when their careers are just starting is a bit much.
Let’s see what happens at Indian Wells, where Emma Raducanu begins to deal with the hype and expectation of having achieved so much so quickly, knowing the long run is how her career will be measured.
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