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10 BURNING QUESTIONS IN 2022: WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WILL EMMA RADUCANU AND LEYLAH FERNANDEZ HAVE?

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There will be losses, moments away from tennis and strange moments of public fame and infamy. Each will be forced to adjust with this everywhere she goes.

On September 11, 2021, Arthur Ashe Stadium was witness to arguably the most joyous moment of the tennis year. The timing was meaningful—20 years after 9.11, 18 months into a global pandemic. Over the course of a summer fortnight in New York, fans and players alike had created a lively US Open, all parties grateful for the chance to savor the world’s best tennis players at the year’s final major.

So it was that a pair of teenagers, Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, played each other in the women’s singles final. The tennis itself was fairly straightforward, Raducanu’s depth and pace the keys to a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The inspiration came from the positive energy both brought to the match—a strong passion for competition that was, at least to some degree, a tonic for a time that has been challenging for the entire planet. Following the match, Fernandez addressed matters that went far beyond the lines of the court. Speaking to the crowd during the post-match awards ceremony, she said, “I hope I can be as strong and resilient as New York has been the last 20 years. Thank you for always having my back. Thank you for cheering for me. I love you, New York.”

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So as 2022 gets underway, what can we expect from these two engaging players? Having now soared from the pack, how will their respective tennis journeys progress?

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First, expect losses—plenty of losses in all sorts of ways. Raducanu’s US Open appearance marked only the fourth time she’d played in the main draw of a WTA event. Fernandez to that point had once reached the third round of a major. As well as these two played over the course of two weeks in New York—actually, three for Raducanu, entered as a qualifier—one great showing hardly guarantees future deep runs. In addition to the four majors, life week in and week out on the pro tour, in places like Dubai and Lyon, Indian Wells and Stuttgart, is where a player over time reveals competitive character.

Layered into the demands of the tour is the current global environment. As if being a professional athlete wasn’t demanding enough, the challenges of international travel during a pandemic add even more stress. Surely, Raducanu and Fernandez will look to handle all of this delicately. Time was when a rising star would play week after week of events. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see each of them orchestrate at least two mid-year mini-sabbaticals, similar to the month-long breaks Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters have often taken in recent years.

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Raducanu and Fernandez in 2022 will also come under an extremely bright spotlight of media coverage and marketing exposure. At one level, this is what anyone who seeks to be a pro tennis player hopes for: success and attendant wealth. But for those who win big as teenagers, it can be jarring. As the US Open runner-up, Fernandez will experience this less. She also comes from a country, Canada, where a compatriot, Bianca Andreescu, has already won a major (the 2019 US Open). Added to this is that the Canadian media and marketing culture is relatively small—particularly compared to Raducanu’s home in Great Britain.

Raducanu is the first British woman to win a singles major since Virginia Wade’s 1977 Wimbledon run. Hopefully, Raducanu’s spent some time with Andy Murray and Tim Henman to learn about the microscope a British tennis star is put under. It can be relentless, intrusive, and distracting. But it can also be lucrative, as demonstrated by the endorsement deals Raducanu has already signed with such companies as British Airways, Evian, Dior, Tiffany, Wilson, and Nike. In December, Raducanu was named the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. Amid all that fame, I can only imagine the tabloid headlines that will surround Raducanu’s appearance at Wimbledon next summer, as well as the year-long dissection of her various wins, losses and comments.

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So yes, there will be losses and there will be moments away from tennis and there will be strange moments of public fame and infamy. Each will be forced to adjust with this everywhere she goes in 2022—everything from a tough loss to a coaching change to parent-player matters to public interactions with other celebrities.

But best of all, there should also be many engaging tennis moments. Both players are superb ball-strikers. Raducanu’s ten-match run to the US Open title was marked by frequent signs of what sports psychologist Jeff Greenwald calls “fearless tennis”—swinging freely without fear of a negative consequence. Fernandez evokes such lefties as Marcelo Rios in her ability to the the ball early, create angles and take away an opponent’s response time. It will also be interesting to see how each continues to grow as a player. Technical, tactical, mental and emotional factors will all come into play.

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