Will the world allow Emma Raducanu to just ‘be’?

I wrote a much more ‘positive’ article about Emma Raducanu here, if that’s what you’d like to read.

However, the moment that this incredible talent has walked into with her completely unexpected triumph has led me to wonder what she is in for.

My worry has been, simply: Will the world allow Raducanu to just be? To just keep playing tennis, playing it well and keep raking in the millions?

In case that gets you to scream hoarse about how ‘unfair’ that is, that is what Steffi Graf did and what Serena Williams has mostly been content to (apart from occasionally inserting herself in activist causes – which have ALL, by the way, been tennis related). Will Raducanu be afforded that opportunity?

The articles already pouring out of the standard bearer of wokeism The Guardian have me worried that she won’t be – read here and here.

You are perhaps perplexed as to why I have a problem with articles that, on the surface, appear to be sympathetic towards her.

But that is exactly the problem here.

You see, Emma Raducanu is not a symbol of oppressed teens. Raducanu is not a symbol of teenage wisdom shaming idiot boomers. Raducanu is not the youthful face of multiculturalism nor of Great Britain with a double capital G.

Raducanu is just…Raducanu, a prodigal tennis talent who achieved what nobody else to date has in tennis – winning a grand slam as a qualifier.

I very much apprehend that in this day and age, that notion that she is nothing but her tennis and, more importantly, doesn’t have to be anything more than that is unsustainable.

That, for all that we supposedly live in a deeply libertine passage of time, we have simply lost the ability to look at the individual and are compelled to look at the individual as a proxy for a specific identity group.

I should amend that: I think sports fans are perfectly capable of looking at Raducanu in that uncomplicated way (and which we have generally applied to sports figures) but the media, increasingly, isn’t. And the media will, as Guardian has above, anxiously seek to create an identity-centric narrative around Raducanu.

This may not even be as much of a problem if she is herself so inclined. But by all appearances, she doesn’t seem to be.

She speaks with an unmistakable British accent (posh or not I leave to native Brits to decide), proudly follows the English football team as well as Lewis Hamilton’s exploits in Formula 1. She recently did a photo op at a McLaren garage. In short, she is a carefree, almost stereotypically British, girl – as you would expect an 18 year old to be IF you didn’t know she was already a mega star.

I am afraid, though, that sooner or later, she will be enmeshed in the agendas of others. Be it the woke agenda of the media, the nationalist agenda of the British right wing or the unabashedly capitalist agenda of sponsors.

It would be one thing if Raducanu, wise as she is, was already wise enough to dodge this trap. But the sheer number of television appearances she has already done as well as the reports of huge endorsement deals in the pipeline (and promises to visit Romania/China next year) suggest that she is not or that her parents, being from the financial background, believe in maximising Return on Investment.

I don’t completely blame them. They think they are buying into the old pathway to success that once existed for sportspersons – win big titles, sign some endorsement deals and do the mandatory appearances in a bunch of advertisements and you have it made. This is the path that tennis stars have tapped into, particularly with increasing commercialism from the 80s onwards.

However, at least for female tennis stars (or perhaps, female sports figures generally), success is no longer an unalloyed blessing (if it ever was) or an uncomplicated pathway (if tiring). Now that she is mega-popular so soon, Raducanu will have to take sides, will have to weigh in. As images of Raducanu posing with stylish McLaren sports cars circulate through the internet, you can be sure she will be taken to task by angry environmentalists for setting a terrible example. Raducanu’s visit to Wall Street will also not go unnoticed. That is apart from the proxy war between the globalists and the nationalists with Raducanu as the pawn for both sides at one and the same time.

And at some point, the noise may start to take its toll, as it did, indeed, on Osaka. The more extroverted Raducanu (and one who is clearly very comfortable being British unlike Osaka electing to become a Japanese citizen) will have advantages over Osaka in dealing with the noise. But extrovert or introvert, you have to inhabit a bubble of nirvana all the same in professional tennis. So a distraction is a distraction and only the degree to which it bothers you may vary.

Notice I said female stars. This sort of intellectual wrestling is conspicuously missing when it comes to male stars. Male stars seem to have been given the leeway to just say “I don’t give a shit” and give the middle finger to the media. And they get away with it. Why, Zverev is dodging culpability over allegations of sexual assault and tennis world is keen to protect him as one of the rising stars on whose shoulders the future of the sport partly rests.

Why, again, is this space not afforded to female stars? Why is it compulsory that they must stand for something (and therefore, take a stand)? A frequent complaint of liberals about the attitude of men towards women is unfair expectations are held about the behaviour of women which are never applied to men. Well, do the two women writing for Guardian (both presumably liberals) also realise that in making a symbol, a brand out of Raducanu, they are in fact imposing expectations on her that Raducanu’s male counterparts don’t have to deal with? There may indeed be problems for teenage girls in many fields but does Miss Laura Snapes realise that Raducanu as a teenage tennis star is hardly an outlier in the sport (as recently as US Open 2019, a teen – Bianca Andreescu – broke through with her first and to date only slam)? You do not have to extrapolate the example of a Billie Ellish onto Raducanu because as a sport star, Raducanu is only expected to play, not think aloud or articulate.

At least, that’s what I thought. And I will conclude by explaining the fairly banal source of my angst. As a sports junkie, I want badly for Raducanu to succeed, to create history and leave behind a storied legacy, one that tennis fans will speak of with reverence for decades to come. I have been watching tennis since 1993-94 and in my opinion, she is the best thing to happen to women’s tennis since the golden generation of Williams sisters-Henin-Clijsters. The sky is the limit for a player who has shown the ability to problem-solve on court so astutely in just her second Grand Slam appearance and who is already stunningly devoid of weaknesses. I would love to see Raducanu win at least a dozen slams (note here, I would only love to see that, I am not expecting her to do so and won’t hold her captive to such expectations) and to be able to cheer for her years later when she winds down a brilliant, epoch-making career.

I do not want the corporations, the activists, the politicians and the over zealous media talking heads to take that away from me and millions of other tennis fans like me. Sports is my/our safe space (and presumably of Raducanu as well). Please, for heaven’s sake, leave her alone. Let us tennis fans figure out what to make of her. For I dare say we have a much better track record in doing that.

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