For Virginia Wade, watching Emma Raducanu at the US Open brought a frisson of excitement, mixed with a slight element of caution.
A lifetime in the game, which included Wimbledon and New York titles, has taught her that startling young talent needs handling carefully.
On Monday, Wade looked on with pleasure from Flushing Meadows’ answer to the Royal Box as Raducanu cantered into the last eight. She expects to be back again when the 18-year-old tackles Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.
Emma Raducanu beat Shelby Rogers in straight sets to reach the fourth round at the US Open
Wade had a brief chat with the new star before departing the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Later the former champion, who has always possessed a shrewd and unswerving eye, gave a typically forthright assessment of the player being freighted with the possibility of emulating her feats.
She believes in Raducanu’s potential and thinks, for example, that she is better than 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu. However, she also reckons that the Kent teenager needs another two years of physical development and that beating Bencic will prove a tough proposition.
Now resident in Long Island and with pandemic travel restrictions in place, Wade had to forego her usual trip back to Wimbledon this summer.
Virginia Wade has hailed Raducanu and also believes that the British starlet ‘ticks all the boxes’
‘This is the first time I have seen her in the flesh but I have watched her quite a lot on TV,’ Wade said. ‘I didn’t think the fourth round was a perfect example of how good she is because Shelby (Rogers) froze.
‘But listen, she ticks all the boxes: she’s got good concentration, great groundstrokes, her serve is awesome and she knows what to do with the ball.
‘I think probably the way she concentrates so well and her determination are maybe the best features of all. But everything else is good. The serve is very consistent, technically very sound. At 18, you have to see how it all develops. Other players, they get together and start to work out how to play you.’
That is most definitely the case. This summer Raducanu has enjoyed being something of an unknown quantity, but the locker room and attendant coaches will now be poring over her game to sniff out weaknesses, not that these are very obvious.
Raducanu’s concentration and determination were particularly singled out for praise by Wade
Bencic, the 24-year-old world No 12, was an adolescent wonder-kid. She is now looking ready to deliver, with her confidence having surged since winning the singles gold medal in Tokyo. She might have prospered earlier, had it not been for a long-term wrist injury that struck four years ago.
‘Emma will have trouble with Bencic,’ said Wade. ‘Belinda has been through all that and come through it. She’s been under the radar a bit until she won the Olympics. It will be a tough match because they are equally competent but Emma hits a lovely ball. It’s a pleasure to watch her and she’s a lovely personality.’
Wade still thinks there are tactical adjustments that can be made to improve Raducanu.
‘Personally I would like to see her come into the net more. I have seen her do that, and she can, so I would like to see her look to come forward more. That would make the difference with a lot of these players, both men and women.
Wade has predicted Raducanu to face a formidable test in the form of Belinda Bencic (above)
‘If you get yourself more used to doing that and be ready for the short ball, you learn how to play it. She has a very bright future. I think she’s better than Andreescu, for example. She’s still got some physical development to do. Around 20, she will be OK. You have to pace yourself.’
With that in mind, Wade was impressed by Raducanu’s decision to complete her A-levels this summer. In the long run it may well help her.
‘Emma got her education done and why not? You have an eternity ahead of you. You’ve got to be so aware of the fame that goes with doing well so young.’
This is a recurring theme in tennis, on the women’s side in particular, as seen with the current struggles of Naomi Osaka.
Wade said: ‘I know Osaka was incredibly successful but you see what can happen. There can be a lot of pitfalls on the way, you need to get good advice.
Raducanu could come to the net more, says Wade, who insists she is set for a ‘bright future’
‘You don’t want to be saying yes to everything and have so much pressure on you.’
It is indeed a marathon, not a sprint. You hope wiser counsel will prevail and she will not go all out for every lucrative endorsement going, which has added to the pressure on the Japanese player.
Bencic knows all about the long journey. The daughter of emigrants to Switzerland from the former Czechoslovakia, she was mentored by the mother of Martina Hingis, whose background was very similar.
Bencic was the junior world No 1 and also reached the last eight of the US Open aged just 17
Bencic was junior world No 1 and when she reached the last eight of the US Open at 17 became the youngest player to do so since Hingis. The potential has not quite materialised as expected but she represents a considerable step up for Raducanu here.
It is remarkable to think she has played a whole Grand Slam’s worth of matches already — seven in 13 days. With the way the draw has fallen, none of her opponents have been ranked inside the world’s top 40.
Yet winning is a habit, and Raducanu has been doing so much of it since arriving in New York that she is a danger to anyone who has survived this far.