Sport

Raducanu Ridge? How Wimbledon’s fans on the hill fell for a new star

Wimbledon’s Henman Hill has repelled many invaders over the years. Greg Rusedski and his army were sent packing, without ceremony, in the 1990s. Andy Murray could never summon much interest in taking it over, however much pressure was put on him to care. But on Saturday afternoon it was assailed by a new force. Raducanu Ridge, anyone?

Emma Raducanu, aged 18 years 239 days, reached the last 16 at Wimbledon after beating the experienced, on-form Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 7-5. Having entered the tournament as a wildcard, ranked 336th in the world, and rated only the 10th-best female player in the country, Raducanu is now the youngest British woman to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon in more than 50 years.

It was a nerveless, mightily impressive performance on court, and Raducanu was just as winning afterwards, insisting that she was as surprised as anyone. “Who’d have thought?” she breezily told the crowd on No 1 Court. “It’s funny because at the beginning when I was packing to come into the bubble, my parents were like, ‘Aren’t you packing too many sets of match kits?’” Raducanu smiled as the crowd erupted. “I’m going to have to do some laundry tonight,” she went on, “but I think they have a laundry service at the hotel, so I’m all good, guys!”

On the hill, it was clear that a star was born. “It just looks like she absolutely loves it,” said Sophie Weston, who gave up tickets on Court No2 to watch Raducanu on the big screen from the rain-sodden grass. “She’s laughing, she’s interacting with the crowd. The older players are so serious.” Her sister Olivia added: “You feel like she’s a real human. You can relate to her.”

Andrew Castle, the ex-player and now BBC commentator, agrees that Raducanu looks like the real deal. “Everyone’s been talking about Emma for quite some time,” he said. “Very self-possessed. Very high standards for herself. And she looks like she belongs. That’s not just based upon the winning, that’s based upon the way she hits the ball, the way she moves around the court, the way she works off the court. Does somebody look like they’ve got what’s required to go ahead and to push up the rankings? She does.”

The concern with Raducanu is how much pressure she will be under now. This only looks set to increase with Cameron Norrie losing in four sets to Roger Federer later on Saturday afternoon, leaving her the last British player – male or female – in the Wimbledon singles draw. In previous years, Raducanu could have expected British company in Wimbledon’s second week, usually from Andy Murray. But an injury-ravaged Murray lost to Canada’s Denis Shapovalov on Friday and afterwards wondered “if all the hard work is worth it”. It’s far too early to talk of the baton passing to a new generation, but it’s clear that British tennis needs to prepare itself for life after Murray.

Raducanu has certainly had a crash course in Wimbledon mania. Last week, literally overnight, she gained 30,000 Instagram followers; she received messages of congratulation from, among others, Andy Murray. The media scurried for information about her life. We learned that she was born in Toronto, but moved to the UK aged two; her parents, Ian and Renee, who both work in finance, are from Romania and China respectively. Two months ago, Raducanu was sitting her final A-levels (economics and maths) at a grammar school in south London. She speaks Mandarin and enjoys binge-watching Taiwanese TV shows. The Daily Mail tracked down her neighbours in south-east London: “I speak to them, but funnily enough they never mentioned Wimbledon,” said one.

On Monday, Raducanu – who has given her phone to her osteopath, so she isn’t overwhelmed by messages – will play the Australian Ajla Tomljanović, who is ranked 75 in the world. It is a match that, in her current form, looks eminently winnable. “The way that I’m approaching my matches is each time I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why not?’” says Raducanu. “Like today, I was like, ‘Someone has to be in the second week, why not me?’ I’m just trying to stay here as long as possible and I’m just having such a blast.”