Top billing for British sensation Emma Raducanu as life in lights begins in huge 16,000 stadium for first match since US Open triumph
- Emma Raducanu is set to play first game in since her stunning US Open triumph
- She faces Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open
- Former British No 1 Jeremy Bates has been added to the 18-year-old’s team
All change for Emma Raducanu this week, swapping New York’s skyscrapers and coastal air for palm trees and parched desert mountains.
Yet, as she prepares for her first match since winning the US Open, the biggest swap of all is free swinging anonymity for high profile celebrity and being a target for other players.
In the early hours of Saturday morning (UK time) the next phase of Raducanu’s career begins, when she tackles Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, having received an initial bye.
Emma Raducanu faces Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open
Raducanu arrived in New York seven weeks ago not even allowed a practice court within the confines of Flushing Meadows, in common with other qualifiers.
Now she plays her first match in southern California with top billing for the night session in the huge 16,000 stadium financed by the tournament’s owner, Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison.
Andy Murray also features in a Friday evening programme designed to pull in the punters to an event running for the first time since March 2019. A sign of the times is that the Kent teenager features the more heavily in local promotions.
Among the dizzying shifts in circumstances for Raducanu, this one entirely self-inflicted, is that she is moving forward without the presence of Andrew Richardson, discarded after the US Open.
Friday night will be the first test of whether this was a smart move. Contrary to some reports, sources close to Richardson have made clear that he would have been happy to carry on in the role and undertake a full travel schedule.
Former British No 1 Jeremy Bates (above) had been added to Raducanu’s team
Instead he will be absent from her box and she will be relying on the temporary help of former British number one Jeremy Bates, whose technical expertise is highly respected within the game. It is believed that neither of Raducanu’s parents, Ian and Renee, have made the trip, as was the case at Flushing Meadows.
The search for a permanent new coach has begun, and one with plenty of experience is being lined up. It was clear, however, from what she said this week that the Raducanu philosophy puts less of a premium on having a mentor figure in charge than other players.
Among the extraordinary statistics which attach themselves to her rise is that she has never won a set in her two appearances at this main WTA Tour level, below the Grand Slams.
With that in mind she is willing herself to continue trying to enjoy the moment, and insisted she is not feeling any pressure: ‘I haven’t got to that point yet. I will let you know when that happens,’ she said.
‘But not right now. I am just enjoying myself playing in venues and locations like Indian Wells. It is a step up from where I was playing in the lower 25s (Futures circuit). I feel grateful to be able to be here. There are still so many tournaments on the Tour I haven’t played, I am really looking forward to doing it.’
Sasnovich is the world number 100, who was Serena Williams’s opponent when the American great retired at Wimbledon this summer with injury.
The British teenage star is set to play first game in since her stunning US Open triumph
The 27 year-old Belarusian nonetheless has some impressive wins on merit in a career that saw her reach a high of number 30. She has an adaptable game that can feature such things as forehand slices, and will be tricky if Raducanu does feel this new occasion.
Murray could tell her all about pressure, but has problems of his own to worry about as he tackles another crafty opponent, languid Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
These extend beyond him losing his wedding ring, which he had forgetfully left tied to the shoe laces of his tennis footwear when they were stolen from a car park this week.
Murray has again relied on a wildcard to make this draw, and he badly needs to get some ranking points this week to avoid plummeting back down towards 200.
This is because, under the complex Covid ranking formula currently in use, he is soon dropping what he gained from winning Antwerp’s European Open in October 2019. Even with a metal hip, he is the only member of the one-time ‘Big Four’ competing here this week.