Emma Raducanu says that watching Harry Kane has turned her into a Tottenham fan.
But, unlike her new team, the confident US Open winner then demonstrated her genuine title ambitions by claiming she can become a serious contender on clay.
Raducanu sent fans into a frenzy by donning a Spurs No 10 shirt during practice in Stuttgart on Monday and told how she had started following the North London club after picking up the football bug during Euro 2020 last summer.
“I loved following the Euros last year, watching Harry Kane the England captain, and Son: [Heung-min]”I’m a bit of a fan of his as well,” she said. “So, I like to dabble.”
Kane’s story may be the polar opposite of Raducanu’s – the England star who has toiled for years for no trophy, against the teenager who emerged from obscurity to win the US Open – but on clay, at least, pundits would have give her the same chance of a title as Tottenham winning the Premier League: zero.
Yet Raducanu is adamant that her playing style and huge inexperience does not mean that she cannot one day challenge at the top. “To get that: [first clay] win definitely gave me a lot of confidence, “she said on Monday, referring to her first career win on the surface at the Billie Jean King Cup last week.” It’s definitely going to be an exciting clay season, I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I keep telling everyone around me that one day clay is going to be my surface, and I still believe that. ”
Raducanu’s first full season on tour continues to be a whirlwind. She has gone from blister-gate 2.0 in Prague days ago, where she limped through her second BJK Cup tie due to painful foot blisters, to looking ready to channel her inner Kane in Stuttgart. And the knee-sliding antics of her favorite striker could well inspire her as she attempts to get to grips with the notoriously difficult-to-navigate surface.
Her flat groundstrokes and baseline-hugging game are more suited to fast grass and hard courts, but Raducanu, 19, is seeing the slippery clay as a challenge she is more than capable of mastering. And just days after questioning whether foot blisters might bleed into her first WTA clay court event in Stuttgart, Raducanu was back to looking relaxed on the practice courts on Monday, decked out in a Tottenham kit to celebrate the birthday of her physiotherapist Will Herbert, also a Spurs fan.
“My whole team are basically big Spurs fans,” she said. “I feel like they’re egging me on and desperately trying to get me behind. I don’t necessarily follow football so much but I feel now, because of them, some sort of connection.”
Her confident choice of words and outfit were promising signs ahead of a big week in Stuttgart, beginning on Wednesday when she plays her first-round match against world No 197 Storm Sanders.
Raducanu is not right to write off the clay season. Maria Sharapova famously said clay courts made her feel “like a cow on ice”, but Roland Garros then became the only major she ever won more than once. Her two titles in 2012 and 2014 showed the type of turnaround that can be made by even those most unsuited to the ‘red stuff’.
While some could argue that Raducanu has not got much to gain from playing on clay this year, with no ranking points to defend and with the blister problems last week, her attitude suggests there is much to play for.
The most obvious benefit of the next few weeks through to Roland Garros is that expectations on Raducanu are much reduced, as she has played just two matches on clay over the last four years. With her much-anticipated return to Wimbledon and the daunting prospect of defending her US Open title this September, the summer is going to be played among relentlessly high pressure. In Paris, and warm-up clay tournaments like Stuttgart this week, she has her one opportunity all season to develop when the stakes are not as high – and a rare opportunity to surprise people.
More time on court is also key to becoming more “robust”, as Anne Keothavong put it, which her blister trouble and fatigue issues highlighted. Playing a stacked field in Stuttgart – where she has been drawn in the same quarter as world No 1 Iga Swiatek – will put her body to the test again.
The tricky business of changing surface mid-season is also part and parcel of being a professional. Skipping a surface is a luxury reserved for experienced players like Andy Murray – who is eschewing clay for early grass practice – while those still figuring it out need all the practice they can get. Raducanu understands that. “On the clay, you need to be more patient,” she said on Monday.
“You need to build the shot and that takes a lot more energy and physical demand. You have to be more crafty. I think it’s a good lesson for someone younger like me to develop more skills. I’m looking forward to spending more time on clay as the years go by. It’s going to be a good surface for me when I’m older. “
While British players are known for struggling on the surface, the likes of Johanna Konta and Tim Henman surprised themselves by making breakthroughs at the French Open at late points in their careers. Though Raducanu is highly unlikely to make major headway this year, theirs and Sharapova’s careers are lessons in never giving up on clay.