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Meet Emma Raducanu: the motocross-loving model student - and next big thing in British tennis - PA

Meet Emma Raducanu: the motocross-loving model student – and next big thing in British tennis – PA

Emma Raducanu held her hands to her head in disbelief, then crouched to the ground to take the moment in as the evening light faded on Court 12 at the All England Club.

Hype around British tennis prospects is never hard to find, but in the case of Raducanu it is surely justified. It was not just the fact she had beaten Marketa Vondrousova on Thursday night – a player ranked 296 places above her – on her grand slam debut, but the manner of it – cool, collected and completed with the assuredness of a seasoned tour pro.

Raducanu, 18, has long been touted as the next big thing in British tennis, but this felt like the moment she had truly arrived. Yet while other youngsters have been feted in years gone by, her journey to this point has been far from typical.

Raducanu actually had her pick of four different nations to represent: she was born in Toronto to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, before the family moved to London when she was two.

She took up tennis aged five, and her potential was spotted early by the LTA, who have supported her on the Pro Scholarship Programme, which provides assistance to Britain’s young players with the potential to reach the top 100 within five years.

Her parents, who both work in finance, were keen to ensure she remained well-balanced though and her hobbies include go-karting and motocross, and she has remained dedicated to her studies alongside tennis.

She successfully juggled her GCSEs alongside turning professional in 2018, achieving top grades while winning her first three ITF titles and making her debut on the British Fed Cup team last year.

Only last month she completed her A Levels in mathematics and economics while preparing for Wimbledon, and had not played a professional tournament since March 2020 before this week.

“I have to be the best, do the best I can,” Raducanu said of her parents’ expectations in a Telegraph Sport interview last year. “They both came from very academic families and in pretty tough countries growing up – my dad in Romania and mum in China – so they probably have a lot of that remaining. They were both communist countries so education was kind of their only option. They want me to have options, they think my education is very important for my future.”

Focusing on her studies this year at Newstead Wood, a girls’ grammar school in Orpington, Kent, was the kind of normality her parents were keen to foster in their efforts to shield her from the spotlight. But that will be near-impossible now, after her already sensational fortnight at these Championships.

Her world ranking of 338 is set to soar after this run to the third round, and with her win on Thursday she earned £115,000 – nearly four times her career earnings to date. One of six British women to be handed a wildcard into the singles draw, Raducanu showed the kind of composure that none of her compatriots could exhibit this week and is the only one progressing to the third round.

She plays again on Saturday against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, when she will no doubt get a show court billing, and Raducanu will have more eyes on her than ever before. New fans can expect to see a big game, with a strong serve, as well as aggressive ball striking from the back of the court.

Those who have had a watchful eye on Raducanu for years know of her strength. She has been impressing British tennis stalwarts like Heather Watson since she was just 16, and Watson has described being left open-mouthed by the youngster lifting 200kg hip thrusts in the gym back in 2018. “Most of the guys can’t do that,” Watson told Telegraph Sport last year.

It is that well-honed athleticism, despite her tender years, that gives her a chance to compete against players well above her ranking, as well as what Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup captain Anne Keothavong describes as her “incredibly competitive” drive.

It helped her surge back from a 3-0 deficit in the second set on Thursday, and could well score her an even more memorable win this Saturday to reach the second week at Wimbledon – a result that she says she would trade for any A* grade.