Was there anyone who saw Emma Raducanu’s stunning US Open victory coming? It’s difficult to imagine that even her most ardent supporter could have predicted that, having not previously won a single main-draw match on the WTA Tour, Raducanu would triumph in New York. Perhaps someone in her family thought there was a small chance of a surprise run? Perhaps her coach for the US summer swing, Andrew Richardson, fancied she could get through qualifying and cause a few shocks?
What about the players who Raducanu has been playing against as a junior over the last 10 years?
Raducanu had travelled around Europe on the ITF Tour before winning the US Open, but most of her tournaments were played in Great Britain, mostly alongside players who had grown up with her. One of those players is Sonay Kartal, who has played Raducanu more than anyone else in the world – and had a 6-5 winning record against her. Kartal was on the other side of the net on a couple of videos showing a nine-year-old Raducanu that went viral during the US Open.
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So, what did Kartal make of Raducanu’s remarkable summer?
“What she has done is absolutely incredible,” Kartal told Eurosport as she competes at this week’s UK Pro League Finals Week, a domestic league for the top UK professionals which was won by Raducanu last year.
“It’s mind-blowing considering she only won her first WTA match a few weeks ago, and she already has a Grand Slam title under her belt. It’s a crazy story but it puts a lot of perspective for me and the players that are here playing her how achievable it really is. A lot of us grew up playing her in juniors, beat her, lost to her, and it shows that anything is possible.”
Raducanu’s rise over the last six months is almost unprecedented in recent tennis history. At the start of the year she was ranked No 345 in the world and was juggling studying for her A-levels with playing tennis. But after making her WTA Tour main draw debut at the Nottingham Open she reached the second week at Wimbledon and then soared to victory at the US Open. At this week’s Linz Open in Austria she entered as the top seed after breaking into the top 20 in the world.
Did Kartal ever see signs that anything like this was possible for Raducanu?
“We were so young…it’s very difficult at that age to tell, but you always knew you would be a good player. You can recognise talent from an early age, good coordination and she understood the game, but to say what she was going to do now I don’t think anybody would be able to make that call.
“I played her a lot between the age of nine to Under-12 level and we would meet a lot in finals. We would be taking it in turns with who would ending up winning!”
Ahead of playing in Linz this week Raducanu faced scrutiny from an unusual source; the England rugby coach Eddie Jones, who called Raducanu a "young girl" and suggested she has been burdened by "distractions” since winning the US Open. Jones faced criticism for the remarks, with former British No 1 Jo Durie calling the comments sexist. “Emma isn’t a girl; she is an 18-year-old woman. No one ever complains about blokes going to galas; it’s always something that is thrown at women,” Durie told the Telegraph. “Unfortunately, when you’re this famous, everybody likes to have their opinion about you.”
“I hope she finds her way and manages to block out any negativity,” says Kartal, who adds that she doesn’t know Raducanu “personally too well”.

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“With some people it can get to you and eat you up inside; you put yourself on this pedestal and it can be a long way to fall. But I think she will manage it fine and hopefully she will have good people around her that can guide her to where she needs to be.”
Kartal, who recently clinched the first international title of her career in Turkey, may not have hit the heights that Raducanu has yet, but her fellow Brit’s fame has rubbed off in a very small way.
“The LTA posted a video of us playing as kids and I had a lot of people saying ‘oh you’re the girl that was playing against Emma!’. And when I was in Turkey recently quite a few coaches from different countries said they recognised me from the video.”
While winning a major title may seem a long way off for the players competing at the UK Pro League Finals Week, Kartal is hitting the best form of her career. Having battled injury issues in the last few years she won 11 matches out of 12 across the two tournament weeks of ITF W15 events in Antalya and won three weeks in a row in the Pro League over the summer.
“My biggest thing was trying to keep fit and keep my body injury free,” she explains. “I feel that I have taken care of that as best as I could and used the Covid break to maximise that. I’ve played a lot of matches, the Pro League has put my body under a lot of stress and got me tournament ready. I am on a good roll.
“The Pro League for me has been about replicating tournament play so that when I go away I am used to and comfortable with it. The format is so unique, you are guaranteed seven matches whether you win or lose, putting your body under that stress is the most important thing for me so that when I do go away my body is used to the feeling of being tired and worn out and can keep going.”
Raducanu was beaten in three sets by world No 106 Xinyu Wang in her final match of the 2021 season in Austria. She has confirmed that she will be hiring German Torben Beltz as her new coach.
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