Emma Raducanu takes up British Wimbledon mantle from Andy Murray


WIMBLEDON — The Centre Court crowd needed that.

A day after the emotional maelstrom of Andy Murray saying goodbye to his spiritual home for the last two decades, here was Emma Raducanu, gliding her way past Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-3, and into the fourth round of Wimbledon.

The King is dead, long live the Queen.

Except not quite — because in a welcome addition to this sub-plot, Britain’s two most recent Grand Slam champions link up on Saturday night for the mixed doubles.

Raducanu is still just 21; she is figuring out her place in tennis after the disappointment of injuries and the all-at-once success of winning a Grand Slam title at 18. She doesn’t need the additional pressure of being anointed as Murray’s successor, especially when it comes to carrying the burden of a nation’s hopes.

On nights like this, Raducanu appears to wear that pressure lightly. She dismissed Sakkari, the world No 9, in the same way she breezily moved through the draw to win that U.S. Open three years ago. Sakkari was a victim of hers in New York too, that time in the semifinal, and straightforward straight-sets wins are in fact Raducanu’s calling card at Grand Slams.

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Raducanu appears comfortable in the spotlight. (Robert Prange / Getty Images)

She pulled off 10 in a row (including three in qualifying) to claim the U.S. Open title, and of the 30 Grand Slam matches she has played in her career, 19 have ended in two-set victories. At this year’s Wimbledon she’s again reeled off three consecutive straight-sets wins — just as she did at Wimbledon 2021 — culminating, for now, in Friday’s 6-2, 6-3 success.

In that way she couldn’t be more different from Murray, who at times seemed to have a magnetic force drawing him towards the dramatic. Sakkari was put away in 91 minutes on Friday night; after one-and-a-half hours of the Scot, most fans would expect to be settling in for a long one.

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Both come alive on the big stage. They are players who grow on Centre Court and feel at home there. “I love playing on the big courts,” Raducanu said after beating Sakkari.

“For me, I thrive on such occasions, on big stages. It’s something that I play tennis for. I just love the feeling of it, competing, especially here in front of a home crowd. It is really amazing.”

As for the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd, Raducanu echoed what Murray said after losing the 2012 final to Roger Federer. “Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon, how tough it is,” Murray said. “But it’s not. The people watching… They make it so much easier to play.”

And here was Raducanu on Friday: “I think on the pressure side, you can flip it. I have a packed Centre Court who are all rooting for me to win. I just feel happy that that many people are behind me.”

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Wimbledon’s Centre Court was packed for Raducanu’s match. (Glyn Kirk / AFP via Getty Images)

Raducanu’s aura and confidence are back, and this week she has unquestionably reestablished herself as the brightest thing in British tennis. Before these Championships, she had not been beyond the last-16 of a major since that U.S. Open win. When it came to home hopes for this tournament, Tim Henman predicted, justifiably, that Britain’s No. 1 and the No. 32 seed here Katie Boulter would go further than Raducanu. Boulter beat Raducanu in Nottingham last month, but she was knocked out in the Wimbledon second round by fellow Brit Harriet Dart on Thursday.

Her reemergence, particularly on Centre Court and in the context of Murray’s farewell to SW19, can also be set against the pre-tournament expectations for Jack Draper, and what they say about the expectations for British tennis players. As Britain’s new men’s No. 1, Draper is ranked at No. 28 to Raducanu’s admittedly injury-affected No. 135, and was coming in to the All England Club off the back of a title in Stuttgart, as well as a win over the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz at Queen’s Club.

Like Raducanu, Draper was given the chance this week to show his credentials as Murray’s successor with a prime-time slot on one of the show courts. But on Thursday late afternoon and into the evening on Court 1, he lost in straight sets to the man he had just deposed as the British No. 1.

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Cameron Norrie has a tennis resume many top players would love, but has never quite caught on with the British public. (Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

That’s Cameron Norrie — the same Cameron Norrie who reached the semifinals here two years ago and is a former top-10 player, with five ATP titles including a coveted Masters 1000 at Indian Wells. Despite his success, which puts him ahead of Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, and Milos Raonic, and level with the likes of Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer in terms of winning a tournament one rung below a Grand Slam title, he’s never been able to achieve much cut-through with the wider British public. At 28, he probably never will, even if he beats Alexander Zverev on Centre Court on Saturday.

Boulter’s conqueror Dart is also in action on Saturday, up against Wang Xinyu, but ranked only just inside the world’s top 100 she is a way off being a Grand Slam contender.

Things can change very quickly, but for the moment it feels like with Murray on the way out, Raducanu will necessarily inherit Murray’s mantle. Not because she needs the pressure, or should be expected to live up to having won a Grand Slam title, but because among the other contenders, she has the game and the proof of execution on the bigger stages to do it — whether now, or more realistically, as she develops as a player, and sheds the all-or-nothing, boom-or-bust cycles that have defined her career to date.

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Against Sakkari, the 21 year old demonstrated her capacity to play under pressure — saving all seven of the break points she faced, and reserving two of her three aces for those moments. She also demonstrated her ability to exert that pressure on opponents at key times.. She was all over the Sakkari serve, drawing a double fault on the penultimate point of the match after a flurry of big returns. Having had no top-10 wins until last week, when she beat American world No. 5 Jessica Pegula at Eastbourne, she suddenly has two.

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Raducanu’s recent focus on grass-court tennis has paid dividends. (Julian Finney / Getty Images)

Raducanu’s reward is a fourth-round match against the qualifier and world No. 123 Lulu Sun, which undoubtedly presents a huge opportunity. As does the fact that she can’t face a seeded player until the semifinal.

But before that comes Saturday night’s mixed doubles with Murray, as the two star attractions of British tennis join forces. On Wednesday, Raducanu said “I think Wimbledon is Andy Murray and Andy Murray is Wimbledon.”

After their match together this evening, that could be it for Murray the player at Wimbledon.

Over to you, Emma?

(Top photo: Glyn Kirk / AFP via Getty Images)



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