Whether winning the US Open is just the start of a long and successful tennis career for Emma Raducanu remains to be seen, but it is clearly the start of a new life for her.
Since her shock win in New York earlier this month, Raducanu, 18, has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Naomi Osaka, Lewis Hamilton and Serena Williams at the Met Gala. She has done a number of media appearances around the world, seen her Instagram followers shoot up to over two million – joining Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Eugenie Bouchard, and Sania Mirza as the only active tennis players to hit this milestone – and this week signed a sponsorship deal with luxury jewellery brand Tiffany & Co.
The endorsement is expected to be the first of many for Raducanu, whose profile should soar even higher over the coming years. Nike, Adidas, Uniqlo, Aston Martin, Chanel and Lacoste are just some of the brands said to be circling. The opportunities are almost endless - and potentially overwhelming.
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Raducanu’s huge sponsorship appeal is partly because of her background. She was born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mum, grew up in England, and made her major breakthrough in New York. She has already tapped into the audience in the Far East by posting a message of her speaking mandarin and thanking fans for their support on Chinese social media platform Weibo. That, and the fact that she was happy to stick around in New York after the US Open and appear on TV shows and attend A-list events as if she was a seasoned pro, served to show her intentions to be a global star.
Her sponsorship deals before the US Open were reportedly just with Nike and Wilson, and amounted to £100,000 a year combined. The endorsement with Tiffany & Co is apparently a seven-figure sum, and Nike and Wilson will likely be very keen to secure her services for the long-term future. That will be just the start, with PR guru Mark Borkowski predicting that Raducanu could be Britain’s first billion-dollar sport star.
"This is the start of something epic,” Borkowski, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers and Led Zeppelin, among others, told The Guardian.
She is a billion-dollar girl, no doubt about it. She is the real deal.
"It’s not just that she plays extraordinary tennis, it’s also her background, her ethnicity, her freedom of spirit. People also love the fact that she is vulnerable, but laughs the pressures away.”
There are other factors that suggest stardom beckons for Raducanu.
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Firstly, she is represented by the IMG talent agency, with the renowned Max Eisenbud said to be managing her affairs. Eisenbud played a big role in turning Maria Sharapova into the top-paid female athlete for more than a decade, and also worked with China’s first-ever Grand Slam winner Li Na. Sharapova burst onto the scene when she won Wimbledon aged 17, but Eisenbud had set the groundwork for her to rise to the top long before that. Winning her first major was the big step needed to become a household name almost overnight - just as with Raducanu - and Eisenbud quickly helped the Russian become one of the world's most recognised sports figures. But Sharapova also had success on the court; just a year after winning Wimbledon she became world No 1. Will Raducanu also follow up her US Open win with more titles in the next year?
Even if she doesn’t, her trajectory might be helped by the current layout at the top of the WTA Tour.
While the strength in depth in the top 20 – which Raducanu currently sits just outside of – seems to be growing on the court, the global star power is perhaps not as strong as it has been in previous years. Osaka is the obvious exception as the highest-earning sportswoman in the world, having being paid around £40m in endorsements in the last year alone and secured deals with Nike, Beats by Dre and Mastercard, among others. Yet outside of Osaka – who also appeals to audiences around the world due to her mixed background with a Japanese mother and a Haitian-American father - there aren’t many other players who look as though they will attract the same attention as Raducanu.
It was predicted that Iga Swiatek would become one of the faces of women’s tennis after her stunning breakthrough at the French Open in 2020, and she has signed several sponsorship deals to increase her profile. However, even though her form has been solid this year, she cannot command the same global market share as Raducanu. The same could be said for the top five in the world, with Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Barbora Krejcikova having not yet expanded their appeal much beyond their home countries. Perhaps the closest rival to Raducanu is 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who could be set to step into the void left by Serena Williams. She has already signed multi-year deals with the likes of New Balance and Italian food company Barilla, who also sponsor Roger Federer, and a Grand Slam win for Gauff would be enormous in the development of her profile.
Another plus for Raducanu is that she is filling a huge gap in the British market. She is the first female British Grand Slam champion since 1977 and the first female British tennis superstar since…? Johanna Konta got to No 4 in the world and has made Grand Slam semi-finals, but her success has not captured the public’s attention anywhere near as much as Raducanu’s runs at New York and Wimbledon did. Before Konta you have to go all the way back to Virginia Wade, Jo Durie and Sue Barker in the 1970’s and 1980’s. British tennis has been crying out for a female superstar in the 21st century.
Whether or not Raducanu overtakes the likes of Swiatek and Osaka on and off the court, she can also learn lessons from both.
Swiatek has spoken about the difficulties she has faced this year as she has tried to balance her newfound fame and business interests with also competing on the WTA Tour and trying to win more titles – “it's much, much different when you suddenly get success.” Osaka has also found it challenging at times to constantly be in the spotlight and is currently taking an indefinite break from tennis.
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Raducanu had a care-free attitude at the US Open but now she is going to face choices about how much time to commit to off-court interests and also where to invest her time and money. Sponsorship lawyer Andy Korman, who has worked on contracts for a number of top-tier British sports stars, thinks Raducanu is almost uniquely positioned to tap into the young person’s market in Europe, North America and China, and will have “her pick” of who to work with.
“She’s still at the stage of building her own personal brand and people will pay attention to the kind of sponsors she takes on,” Korman told PA. “She has a good chance to pretty much take her pick, and she has the chance of going with brands that she believes in. You define yourself by the company you keep really.
“The kinds of people she gets involved with, she has got an element of personal choice there. This is where the personality marketing comes into it and her agency comes into play.”
While Raducanu may appear to have the world at her feet, there have been warnings too. Tennis coaching legend Nick Bollettieri wants Raducanu to be allowed to “breathe” and “find her way”. Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Scott Lloyd also suggested she might need some space and to have some time away from the spotlight. "It will take some adjustment and she will need some breathing space. There will be bumps in the road, and there will be times next year when she is going to have a target on her back, and she will have to get used to that.”
Not only will Raducanu have to get used to a new status on the WTA Tour, but she will also have to get used to seeing her face on many more billboards and magazines as her stock continues to grow.
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