Virginia Wade was the last British woman to win the US Open singles title back in 1968.
She spoke to Fatima Manji from New York about Emma Raducanu’s stunning US Open victory, what lies ahead for the new British sporting superstar and what it was like to be in the crowd watching the 18-year-old clinch the title at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday night.
VW: I tell you something, it’s not as nerve-wracking as you think, because she is so under control and hits the ball so well and seems to just dismantle all of her opponents one after another. And so I think it’s just been a joy watching her. And obviously, Leylah Fernandez is a lovely player too. And that was a joy as well. So we had two of the most desirable characters playing in the final. It was just fantastic. And one of the things that was so incredible was that the crowd just never budged for half an hour or much more after the match because they wanted to see every last second of Emma holding her trophy. It was really lovely. And obviously, after all that attention, I’m smiling because I know that she’s going to have requests from here to eternity coming up, but I think she’ll know how to handle that. I think there’s been enough experience up there on the women’s tour, and I think that she’s just got everything going for her. And she’s just a wonderful, wonderful person, a superstar.
FM: And what an incredible journey to go from what happened at Wimbledon to this.
VW: To be honest, I didn’t think it was such a big deal what happened at Wimbledon, these things can happen. You have to think about them. You can’t just pretend that it didn’t happen. Her (former) coach’s name was Nigel Sears and the first thing I did was I emailed him and said, I just don’t think this is a bad thing at all. You just move on. And that’s exactly what she’s done. So I don’t think she’s going to have any ghosts from that. It’s just something that might happen. You might not be feeling 100% on a day or something. And it’s so much pressure and stuffy conditions, it was sweltering hot and she was running from corner to corner because she busts her gut to get to every single ball. She’s so determined. Likewise, when she had that scrape on the court, she was trying and she got to a ball that really was out of reach. So that is one of the determining factors that makes her so unbelievably successful.
FM: I know you gave her a big hug at the end. What did you say to her?
VW: I said can I have a hug? I need a hug. That is about all I said. I was with Kim Clijsters, who had won the tournament several times, and I said, we’ve gotta go down and see if we can just catch a glimpse of her, because I know she’s going to be surrounded by security people, surrounded by people who now are going to be looking after her, it’s going to be like bees around a honey pot. But I said, I’m sure we can. We’ve got players’ credentials. We can just go down and maybe we’ll get lucky and we got lucky.
FM: There’s going to be a huge burden of expectation on her. You’ve been there, how do you cope with that?
VW: You have to accept there is going to be one, and I think two things; first of all, I think she has to really realise how good she is. And that’s not an egotistical sort of (thing). That’s just in being self-confident without being big-headed or anything like that. It’s just, if you believe that you’re better than somebody else, you’re probably going to beat them. So she’s got to have a big dose of that and constantly have that. The other thing is that in tennis, you always go up in stages, you go up a step and then you have to try and consolidate that. And (then you look backwards), when I say look backwards I mean you have to make sure you don’t have any bad losses and then you go up and bad losses are against somebody ranked way lower than you that you should beat. But there are plenty of good players out there that if you don’t play well against them the first match there’s always time to learn. There are half a dozen to 10 girls, young ladies, young women out there who are so good. So between them, I think they really are going to be vying for the top honours all the time in the next five to 10 years.