Emma Raducanu has said she intends to ignore all negativity and focus on the joy of returning to Wimbledon and making her Centre Court debut for her first-round match against Alison Van Uytvanck.
“I think last year I was so new to it, so I wasn’t even thinking of anything,” the 19-year-old Raducanu said. “This year I’m taking it all as a positive thing. Everyone wants me to do well and is behind me and are going to be cheering. So there’s nothing negative or to feel overwhelmed about because they’re just going to be rooting for me.”
Raducanu, the 10th seed, has a challenging first-round assignment on Monday. Van Uytvanck is a grass-court veteran with her weapons and all-court game flourishing on the surface.
In their only previous meeting Raducanu defeated the Belgian 7-6, 6-3 in the first round of the Chicago 125 event last year on hard court, the last tournament before she won the US Open. Back then, the Belgian was the top seed and Raducanu was unseeded, but now the roles are reversed.
As Raducanu reflected on her arrival on the big stage last year, when she was awarded a late main draw wildcard after she had only just finished her A-Levels and returned from a 16-month break, she says that she is taking things slowly. She compared her lack of preparation then due to exams with her current scenario after the side strain she sustained at the beginning of the grass season, which meant she has not completed a match since the French Open. She will approach the challenge without expectations.
“It’s funny because [with] the exams I was studying nine or 10 hours a day, I had my head in a book,” she said. “And coming out is just such a relief to be moving full stop. The last month I haven’t had necessarily the best preparation, I didn’t play tennis for two and a half weeks, I was taking it day by day.
“So in that regard I feel like I shouldn’t have any expectations on myself. Other opponents have been playing a few matches each week, learning, getting a bit better on grass. I’m just like rocking up here this week basically. But I’m feeling good.”
Although Raducanu was always known as a bright talent, her anonymity at the beginning of last year’s event was reflected in the fact that she had very few media requests both before the tournament and even after her opening win against Vitalia Diatchenko.
“I was just training,” she said. “I was definitely experiencing some nerves and uneasiness. I felt like it was a very new experience. But I was feeling very confident because I had a great week of practice, hitting with some top players. I managed to hit with Garbiñe [Muguruza] and that gave me a lot of confidence. I was just looking forward to it, relieved that my exams were over.”
Raducanu will not be the only young British player at Wimbledon with lofty goals as the 20-year-old Jack Draper looks to make his own mark. Last year Draper followed up a breakthrough quarter-final run at Queen’s Club by taking a set off Novak Djokovic in the first round.
Having been ranked outside of the top 300 at the beginning of the grass season last year, Draper has now embedded himself inside the top 100 after winning four challenger titles in the opening four months of the year. Last week he took his second top-15 win of the grass season against the world No 15, Diego Schwartzman, en route to his first ATP semi-final in Eastbourne.
However, no matter how he performs at Wimbledon, there will be no celebratory posts on social media. While his first-round opponent, the wildcard Zizou Bergs, is known for his commitment to TikTok, Draper’s interest in social media is so low that he does not even caption his Instagram photos.
“I just think a lot of people have got enough to say on there,” he said. “I want them to watch me and be motivated and inspired by me as a tennis player, not what I’m going to say on social media.”