Emma Raducanu will have many more Wimbledon tournaments in her career

Credit: PA

What happened to Emma Raducanu on Monday night? She was overwhelmed by the intensity of the whole experience. And we shouldn’t be entirely surprised. Raducanu has skipped so many phases of development that she was like an aspiring comedian playing Wembley Arena without having trialled her material on the pub circuit first.

The pressure of carrying British hopes can leave a person ferociously exposed. Andy Murray, who did it for over a decade, used to suffer mouth ulcers in the build-up to Wimbledon. Johanna Konta once confessed to feeling “light-headed and shaky, a little out-of-body” after collapsing during Fed Cup duty at Bath University. And they are both vastly more seasoned than the 18-year-old Raducanu.

Was this all a case of too far, too fast? Remember that Raducanu was the youngest Briton to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon since Christine Truman in the late 1950s. And that she did so on the back of negligible experience. Until arriving at this event, she had never faced a top-100 player in a competitive match.

The challenge now will be to process what happened. Speaking to Sue Barker on BBC TV yesterday, Raducanu was articulate and engaging, and never came across like a woman who has been scarred by a negative experience. Instead, she stressed that “I think it’s a great learning experience for me going forwards, and hopefully next time now I’ll be better prepared.” 

Still, the people around Raducanu need to make sure that she is not overpushing in her determination to prove herself. When practising, she treats every shot as seriously as if she were competing on Centre Court. When preparing, she makes her own phone calls to research her opponents, rather than leaving it to her team. There is perhaps a case for backing off ever so slightly, because the only thing that can prevent her from joining the world’s elite would be mental or physical burnout.

Nobody can be quite sure what happened on the pressure cooker of Court No1 on Monday night – not even Raducanu herself. When Barker asked what had brought her breathing difficulties on, she replied “I don’t know what caused it. I think that it was a combination of everything that has gone on behind the scenes in the last week and an accumulation of the excitement and buzz.”

Latent fatigue is sure to have been building with each round. Even so, it might never have overcome her but for the determined and hugely physical resistance offered by Alja Tomljanovic.

This was a draining slugfest of a match, and it took Raducanu to places she has never been before. Not only were the rallies powerful and unusually extended, but from a purely tennis perspective, she has probably never seen an opponent absorb her best shots and keep pressing forward as Tomljanovic did.

For a talented and aggressive shotmaker like Raducanu, this is always a significant moment. When you are better than your contemporaries, even the occasional defeat comes with the rider that “If I could only go back on the court, and use such-and-such a tactic, I would be okay”.

Then, sooner or later, you meet someone who simply has too much for you on the day. It’s just that it normally happens on an outside court in Nowheresville, rather than in front of 10,000 people and a TV audience running into millions.

Yes, the manner of the ending was a huge disappointment for those fans. But as Raducanu appeared on camera yesterday in her England football shirt, she didn’t look like a woman who was churning with frustration. There is too much depth in her character to be so easily derailed.

Emma Raducanu spoke maturely to Sue Barker on BBC TV

Raducanu knows that this has still been a career-changing tournament, in the most positive of senses. By climbing from her initial position of No338 in the world to No175, she has achieved something in five days that takes many players closer to five years.

When the new ladder is published on Monday, only two players younger than her will have a higher ranking: 17-year-old sensation Coco Gauff, who made her name here in 2019, and the outstanding Danish prospect Clara Tauson. They have both played far more tennis than Raducanu, who has been focusing on her A-levels since the start of the pandemic.

At such an early age, a loss of composure can happen. The England footballer Marcus Rashford made this point yesterday, admitting that he had experienced a similar attack of light-headedness when playing an Under-16 international against Wales.

It happened to me playing for the national team in U16s against Wales. I remember it to this day. No explanation for it and it never happened again. You should be very proud of yourself. The country is proud of you. Glad to read your feeling better. Onwards and upwards 🎾🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 https://t.co/sokkubBlLN

— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) July 6, 2021

Rashford’s issue never recurred, and with any luck, Raducanu’s unscheduled retirement will also be a one-off. A glitch in the system, eventually looked back on as an anomaly in a long and successful career.