As Britain’s newest sporting sweetheart, Emma Raducanu holds the future of women’s tennis in the palm of her service hand.
But despite growing up and living in Bromley, the 18-year-old credits her Chinese mother and Romanian father for her drive and determination.
Her background is now becoming increasingly familiar to the British public, but less well known is the fact that until the Covid pandemic she travelled regularly to her mother’s home city of Shenyang, in northeast China.
It didn’t interrupt her training. While visiting relatives, she would practise at a local sports institute away from the growing limelight in Britain.
Here, at the Shenyang Institute of Physical Education, she not only practised the strokes and court play that propelled her to win the US Open, but also played table tennis with professional players in order to improve her reactions.
The teenager, who can understand Chinese, but is said to still need to work on her speaking skills, says her drive and discipline are in large part thanks to her mother’s family.
“I think the confidence comes from just inner belief,” she told Vogue.
“My mum comes from a Chinese background – they have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture.”
Raducanu’s mother, Dong Mei Zhai, who is now known as Renee, grew up in Shenyang before moving to Toronto. She then moved with her husband, Ian, to Bromley, south-east London, when their daughter was two.
Raducanu first picked up a racket aged five, and after showing early promise at the Bromley Tennis Academy, earned a scholarship from the Lawn Tennis Association, allowing her to train while continuing her school work.
She has credited her heritage with keeping her grounded, despite an increasingly international lifestyle on the tennis circuit. And while other aspiring British schoolgirls may have looked up to the likes of Virginia Wade, Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Johanna Konta, Raducanu took inspiration from China’s tennis idol, the former world number two, Li Na.
“Even though Li Na has retired, I’ve watched lots of her matches on YouTube, because she was really aggressive,” Raducanu said in July. “Her movement was what impressed me the most. She was so agile and quick, and very powerful. She wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be aggressive.”
She has also spoken of her pride in her parent’s strict work ethic, born of their determination to succeed as migrants in a new country.
Following her stunning breakthrough run at Wimbledon this summer, she said: “My mum has always instilled a lot of the qualities, like discipline and respect for other people, into me, so I think having parents like I do, they always push me, they have high expectations, so I’ve always tried to live up to that.
“I would say I take a big part of my inspiration from her. She always shows me by example what ‘hard work’ means.”
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