‘Our girl’: club where Emma Raducanu played as a child toasts US Open win

iot took less than 12 hours for Chanel Borland to feel the Raducanu effect after the British player’s stunning US Open victory on Saturday night. As the seven-year-old and her mum crossed London for tennis coaching on Sunday morning, a stranger stopped them in the street. “She’s going to be next after Emma Raducanu,” they said.

It was some coincidence, because Chanel’s destination was the Parklangley sports club in Beckenham where Raducanu herself trained from age six to 11 and where as recently as June she warmed up for Wimbledon in relative anonymity. While some club members nursed tender heads after a late night in the club bar watching “our girl” create history in straight sets in New York, Chanel was being drilled in her already impressive groundstrokes by her coach Greg McNally. “Gotta be better than that,” he shouted as one forehand ballooned out of play. But more often he called “Good girl” as she rifled a double-handed backhand.

“I want to be a champion one day and I want to win a medal because I haven’t got any medals yet,” she told the Guardian before delivering a verdict on Raducanu that after Saturday night at Flushing Meadow few could disagree with: “She’s good at tennis.”

Like Raducanu, the Canadian-born daughter of Chinese and Romanian parents, Chanel has a diverse background – in her case Lithuanian and Jamaican – and she is the daughter of a trainee nurse. She is the kind of young Briton who sports administrators now hope will be attracted to watch and play tennis in greater numbers after Raducanu’s charismatic victory.

Nurturing that talent will fall to clubs like Parklangley, a well-funded complex of 16 crisp grass, clay and indoor courts nestled among rows of mini-mansions in the affluent Kent suburbs. Harry Bushnell, head of performance and Raducanu’s former coach, who used to train her in 7am pre-school sessions, was among those packed into the clubhouse on Saturday night to watch his former charge. She is believed to be the club’s first professional, never mind grand slam winner.

“We were playing every shot with her, so at the end of the match we were pretty exhausted,” he told the Guardian. It was “insane, like an out-of-body experience”, because as the tension rose in New York, he was having flashbacks to a neverending tie-break she played in a match for Kent against Sussex at the age of 10, which she ultimately lost.

“But last night I had the feeling the stars were aligned and she was going to do it.”

What set her apart when she was younger was “work rate and determination”. “You never had to speak to her about messing around and trying hard – she always did it well," Egli ha detto. “Her movement and her shot-making back then was pretty spectacular.”

The club is now braced for a surge in interest in membership off the back of Raducanu’s win, even though it already has a waiting list of around 400 persone.

“We’re going to try and get as many children as we can through the pathway and produce a few more Emma Raducanus,” Bushnell said. “I like to think we are more diverse than we have ever been and I think she will be a breath of fresh air for the country.”

But two key problems in boosting participation and diversity in UK tennis are capacity and cost. “There is a huge capacity issue, which we are trying to address,” said Dave Cooke, club manager. “It’s access to courts, floodlights, indoor courts, infrastructure.

"[Our waiting list] è 20% at the moment. What is that going to be in the coming weeks? We want to do more, but we’re finding space to do that.”

He cautioned against thinking that Raducanu’s success could result in a huge change in the social makeup of tennis players. “With anybody going through to that level, a lot of investment is required, and the majority of that comes from parents. As a club we have looked at ways of making sport cheaper for people to engage in.”

He said families on the “performance pathway” that Raducanu took could “easily” expect to pay tens of thousands of pounds a year in fees for coaching, strength and conditioning, equipment, travel and accommodation. “There are always going to be some people who fall away because they can’t afford it.”

Rob Dagwell, 24, who knew Raducanu from the club, disse: “If anyone was going to make it, it was going to be her – you could see the natural raw talent.” But he added that her new status as a grand slam champion was “so weird”.

Christine Harris, 61, who celebrated Raducanu’s victory with sparkling rosé wine in the clubhouse, said “people were jumping up in the air at every point”. It was extra special because she had been watching at Wimbledon in June as Raducanu retired having suffered a panic attack in the fourth round.

Joining her for lunch was Jo Brown, 53, who toasted the win with more sparkling wine. “Ooh, we’ve got a great girl,” Brown said. “She’s local and we’ve expectations of a Wimbledon win now. No pressure.”




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