Daily Mirror


England’s great hope says she’s relaxed and ready to ’rock up’ at Centre Court... and is not feeling the pressure despite being the poster girl of Wimbledon

- BY NEIL McLEMAN @NeilMcLema­n

EMMA RADUCANU says she feels under no pressure on her return to Wimbledon despite shooting from anonymity to internatio­nal superstard­om.

The teenager, darling of the All England Club last year, reckons she can still operate under the radar even though she’s now one of the most famous faces in tennis. “I’m just like rocking up here this week, basically,” said the 19-year-old, who has been watching highlights of her run to the fourth round here a year ago,

The A-level student arrived at the All England Club last year ranked world No.338 and without a single win on the WTA Tour. She is back this year as the US Open champ and British No.1 with her image on billboards all over London – including outside Wimbledon station – for her latest blue-chip sponsor HSBC. ‘Strawberri­es and dreams’ is one of the captions. “I haven’t seen that but I think it is pretty surreal to have my face there,” said Raducanu. “I’m thinking ‘that can’t be me!’”

The No.10 seed now has more big commercial deals (nine) than wins (seven) this season. Her endorsemen­ts, along with her vulnerabil­ity to injury and her coaching set-up, has been a recurring theme since her fairytale in New York last year. But Raducanu and her agency IMG claim critics, such as England rugby coach Eddie Jones, are not seeing the bigger picture.

“I’m obviously very lucky to be working with some amazing partners,” she said. “And although I am a tennis player, there’s so much more to life.

“I think that I learn and can apply those areas of business and how they approach their work with utmost standards to my tennis as well. It’s broadening all sorts of knowledge.”

The build-up to this year’s event has been a quest for knowledge about her niggling side strain – she finally declared “it’s full steam ahead” this weekend – along with countless TV interviews.

“I don’t think I did any real media days last year,” said Raducanu ahead of this afternoon’s Centre Court match against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck.

“I was just training. I was studying nine or 10 hours a day for exams and I had my head in a book.”

A year ago few outside tennis had

heard of her. Now she’s England’s poster girl. But she says that sudden rise to fame has placed no weight of expectatio­n on her shoulders.

“I haven’t necessaril­y had the best preparatio­n over the last month,” said Raducanu. “I didn’t play tennis for two and a half weeks. In that regard I feel like

I shouldn’t have any expectatio­ns on myself at Wimbledon.

“Other opponents have been playing a few matches each week. I’m just like rocking up here this week.

“But I’m feeling good and I’m looking forward to playing on Centre Court.”

Her fitness remains a doubt. She has played only 34 minutes on grass this season after pulling out of the Nottingham Open with a side strain. But her young career also has to be kept in context.

Andy Murray made his Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon in 2005 as an 18-year-old but did not win his first Major until seven years later. Raducanu is not 20 until November.

Taking to the most famous stage in tennis this afternoon is the latest chapter in her amazing story.

“Sometimes I go through my photos and camera roll from last year. I go through all the experience­s and all the emotions I was feeling at the time and relive them,” she said.

“When I rewatched my third-round match, I remember I was hitting some incredible shots that just came out of nowhere. But I was just thinking at the time that I had no idea how I had ever pulled it off. I was literally just experienci­ng the feelings – and I can relive every single moment. That gives you a lot of joy, the feelings you had, everybody watching you, and getting really fired up.”

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