Less than a month ago, as Emma Raducanu tore through the US Open draw to snatch a grand slam title that is still hard to believe, few people had a better seat, as history was unfolding, than Tim Henman.
He had arrived in New York as a pundit for Amazon Prime with uncertainty swirling over just how much the event would resonate with the public at large in the absence of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. Instead, between the unending stream of tight matches in both singles draws and the manner Raducanu won the tournament, he left extremely satisfied: “That was the best grand slam I’ve watched,” he says.
As he sat courtside during Raducanu’s march through the tournament, he played an even greater part in the event than he had anticipated.
Off the court, Raducanu trusted his advice enough to joke he had practically become part of her team as the fortnight progressed. On the court, she frequently made eye contact with him and used his energy to spur her on.
Henman, for his part, did not hide his emotion and one of the photos of the final, now memed endlessly, was of him pointing at the 18-year-old as she fell to the ground in joy.
According to Henman, although he had met Raducanu from time to time around the British game, their rapport was only forged in New York through his friendship with Andrew Richardson, her coach at the US Open. Henman grew up playing with Richardson on the ATP Challenge circuit and he was Henman’s best man.
“I was just there to speak to Andrew and Emma at any stage,” he says. “And if I can help, that was great. I was there to do my television work but when you’re that close to the action, then I could also support as well.”
Emma Raducanu holds the US Open trophy. She won coming through qualifiers and not losing a set in the tournament. Photograph: ZUMA/PA Images
He was also part of the celebrations after the final as Raducanu and her team returned to the hotel after a long round of media duties. They were put in a big room where they ate, drank and spoke into the night.
“It was a lot of fun to reminisce about the previous two weeks but also for Andrew and Emma to look back on the whole trip from when they started out in San Jose, the tournaments they played, the matches that she came through and the challenges she had,” says Henman. “It was a lot of fun and a night I’ll always, always remember.”
Among many things, this has been a reminder of his own ability and success. For much of the past 14 years since his retirement, Henman is more often than not discussed in relation to what he did not achieve; that he was unable to reach a grand slam final, that he is no Andy Murray. But Henman enjoyed a wonderful career in its own right, with six grand slam semi-finals and a career-high ranking of four in a brutal individual sport where most can only dream of such achievements.
He reached his last major semi-final in 2004, but the respect his career receives from British players says a lot about how difficult that was to achieve.
“When I look back over my career and the things I was able to achieve, hopefully I was a role model and an inspiration to the younger generation,” he says. “It’s also part of breaking down barriers for young players to say: ‘Well, if he can do it with hard work, there’s no reason why I can’t do something like that’.”
Since the US Open, Raducanu has split from Richardson. She is being helped in Indian Wells by Jeremy Bates. Despite Richardson no longer playing a part in her career, Henman shrugs at the topic and says her coaching decisions are her prerogative. He had three coaches during his 15-year career, but understands others like to change more frequently.
“She hasn’t put a coach in place now and she’ll have plenty of time for that at the end of the year, whenever the competitive tennis year finishes,” he says. “It probably gives her most of November and all of December to really think about that. That’s important as there’s been so much going on in her world.”
There is indeed a lot going on in her world and Indian Wells will be her first opportunity to block it all out and continue her growth on the court. Henman stresses the importance of her family and the people around her to help her progress and also of ignoring all surrounding noise.
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“My advice to her would certainly be: ‘Don’t worry about what other people think.’ There is always going to be an enormous amount of opinion out there and that’s something she can’t control.
“If she’s focused on those things which are within her control, she’s going to go on and continue to achieve great things within the sport.”
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