Sports Figures Defend Raducanu Over Wimbledon Exit

By Reuters
Reuters
Reuters
July 7, 2021 Updated: July 7, 2021

LONDONBritish sports personalities from Andy Murray to Marcus Rashford rallied to the defense of teenage tennis sensation Emma Raducanu on Tuesday after suggestions she quit her debut Wimbledon because she could not handle the pressure.

The previously little-known 18-year-old, ranked 338 in the world, was the last of 14 British players standing in Wimbledon after three superb wins that had fans on their feet.

But she was forced to retire against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in their last-16 match on Monday with breathing difficulties.

American former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe suggested while commentating for the BBC that the occasion “got a little bit too much” for Raducanu, while some others took to social media criticizing her for bowing out while losing.

The case drew comparisons with world No. 2 Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open after opening up on anxiety she suffered from media interviews after intense matches.

Raducanu herself posted a message to fans on Tuesday saying she was feeling much better, congratulating Tomljanovic, and apologizing for the premature end to the match.

“I was playing the best tennis of my life in front of an amazing crowd this week and I think the whole experience caught up with me,” she tweeted, saying she began breathing heavily and felt dizzy after some tough rallies at the end of the first set.

“The medical team advised me not to continue and although it felt like the hardest thing in the world not to be able to finish my Wimbledon on the court, I was not well enough to carry on.”

Murray, another former Wimbledon champion, said some of the criticism was harsh and premature given nobody knew the specifics of her ailment.

“No question mental toughness can be what separates the best in sport but surely … you aren’t judging her mental toughness on yesterday’s match,” Murray added in reply to ex-England cricketer Kevin Pietersen who said successful athletes must simply “deal with” pressure.

Andy Murray
Great Britain’s Andy Murray leaves court after losing his third round match against Canada’s Denis Shapovalov at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Britain, on July 2, 2021. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

His mother Judy Murray, a tennis coach, went further with a withering tweet. “Middle-aged men should generally avoid commenting on the physical or mental well-being of teenage girls. They will NEVER experience or fully understand that world,” she said.

‘Proud of You’

England footballer Rashford empathized with Raducanu, saying the same had happened to him in an Under-16 game.

“I remember it to this day. No explanation for it and it never happened again,” he tweeted. “You should be very proud of yourself. The country is proud of you.”

Until a month ago, Raducanu had not contested a match on the main WTA Tour and was just finishing school exams.

After French Open organizers were criticized for their robust stance towards Osaka, Wimbledon authorities issued a sympathetic statement wishing Raducanu a good recovery and looking forward to future appearances in the tournament.

“She should be commended for the poise and maturity she has shown,” they added.

Raducanu’s last-16 opponent, Tomljanovic, also said criticism was unfair. “I can’t imagine being in her shoes at 18, playing a fourth round in your home country,” she said.

“I have experienced something similar but not to that extent. I know that it’s a real thing.”

But Wimbledon semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova said pressure was always going to be a factor once Raducanu took the wildcard, meaning she was likely to be on a big court with home fans.

“You just need to cope with that pressure,” she said after making it through to the semis on Tuesday. “(When I was) 18, I was still a kid. She also came from nowhere … Some of these girls, let’s say Coco Gauff—I think she’s ready for all of this. (It) helps if you’re raised like a star.”

By Rohith Nair

Reuters
Reuters