Wimbledon: Emma Raducanu must feed off Centre Court crowd in her tough opener
Like Emma Raducanu I won my first Grand Slam as a teenager so I know how she feels, although our back-stories are certainly very different.
When I won the US Open aged 16, I was already in the world top three or four and had beaten the two leading players in Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
As a player, you climb up levels of success — first settle at the lower tournaments, then do well at WTA events, win a title there, then feel comfortable at the Grand Slams and so on.
Like Emma Raducanu (right) Tracy Austin won her first Grand Slam as a teenager in 1979
You make jumps and Emma skipped about 10 levels in three weeks, from qualifying at a US Open to winning the whole thing, a major!
She didn’t have the chance to make adjustments and settle at each level. With me it was a process over months to say, ‘OK I’m still the underdog’ to ‘OK, I’m a favourite’.
She started at Wimbledon last year, outside the top 300, getting to the fourth round and then having to retire after a set against Alja Tomljanovic.
But none of that could prepare her for the US Open.
Then there was the huge tidal wave of media, endorsements and expectation that followed.
It’s a lot to take on for someone so young. Life changed very quickly for her.
A lot has changed for Raducanu since she won the US Open in stunning fashion last September
When I was coming up, I would always be very strict on limiting the number of days I would give to commercial endorsements so I could focus on training.
Winning a major is very rare in tennis so what she’s had after, with all those engagements and big fanfare, are all benefits of her achievement.
Emma will have the whole of Centre Court cheering for her on Monday. As a player you hear it, there’s no way not to, so hopefully she can use the noise in a positive way.
One of Emma’s best assets is her focus — she’s all-business, concentrated and doesn’t seem to get distracted.
She’s had some time to adjust to being the US Open champion but so many of her matches she’s now expected to win.
All eyes will be on the 19-year-old and she must feed off the crowd on her Centre Court debut
Opponent Alison Van Uytvanck is ranked world No 46 and has won Surbiton and a tournament in Italy. She’s had a lot of play this grass-court season.
This is one of the tougher first round opponents possible. If I ponder which players are in form on grass, Van Utyvanck is certainly one of them. Your best preparation for Wimbledon is to go deep in two or three grass tournaments but it was not to be for Emma, with her abdominal injury at Nottingham a couple of weeks ago.
That happens as an athlete and now she must go out there with a positive attitude. She was on an uptick in form during the clay-court season but it’s going to be a lot to take in as she has so little experience, yet high expectations.
Alison Van Uytvanck is ranked world No 46 and she is one of the tougher first round opponents
But she’s 19 years-old and I’ve been there. The best thing Emma can do is not read the papers!
For the British public, put yourself in her shoes, pretend this is your daughter or sister.
Emma has to block out all of the outside expectations and go out there clear with her tactics.
The women’s draw is as wide open as it has ever been, despite Iga Swiatek being such a short price for the crown.
The Polish woman has won six titles in a row, hasn’t lost in four months and has won 35 matches in a row — but coming into Wimbledon she hasn’t played a grass-court match.
There are no dangerous floaters in the French Open champion’s side, making it a very helpful draw.
Iga Swiatek has won six titles in a row, hasn’t lost in four months and has won 35 matches
She’s such a good athlete and don’t forget she won the juniors tournament at Wimbledon in 2018.
But people forget how different the grass surface is.
If she had played — and won — a single grass tournament, she’d be a lights-out favourite. So because she hasn’t, she is still favourite but not as marginal.
There are players like 2019 winner Simona Halep, who is playing well despite a tough first-round draw, or Coco Gauff, who got to the final at Roland Garros and seems comfortable also on grass. There’s also Petra Kvitova, who just won at Eastbourne.
Coco Gauff got to the final at Roland Garros and seems comfortable also on grass
Tunisian Ons Jabeur got to the quarters last year and won Berlin this year.
There’s not one single player who I can pinpoint to challenge Swiatek but several will be in with a shout.
And we’ve not even mentioned Serena Williams yet!
Serena has a fortunate draw — she’s avoided Swiatek and Jabeur — so that gives her time to build her form throughout the first week and gain some momentum.
On her side is the fact that she knows the surface as a seven-time winner!
The Brits should be very excited about Jack Draper, he is unbelievable and I like his prospects. He is only 20 years old and this is just the beginning — he is not even close to his ceiling.
He is very composed, has a big, lefty serve and is comfortable at the net. His mentality alone is very professional and clearly motivated with very good foundation. I watched him at Eastbourne last week and he beat some tough opponents.
And don’t count out Andy Murray! He’s had some success on grass this season. As for the men in general, Novak Djokovic has won the tournament six times and, like Iga Swiatek, has a favourable draw in which he can build momentum, despite a lack of grass-court play this season.
Jack Draper is very composed, has a big, lefty serve and is comfortable at the net
Matteo Berrettini looks good and I also like Nick Kyrgios’ chances. He could play Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round.
Djokovic could meet Hubert Hurkacz, the Pole who played so well last year.
I think it’s Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Berrettini in the top tier with a chance of winning and then below them is Kyrgios — if he can stay motivated for seven matches — and maybe Tsitsipas or Marin Cilic. Carlos Alcaraz is an interesting prospect as he’s not played any grass matches this season. Players who haven’t are vulnerable in the early rounds.
My friend Sue Barker is the best in the business. She does her job with class, elegance and ease.
So many presenters I’ve seen need a teleprompter and she just stands there all day but knows all the names and remembers their back-stories. It’s her last Wimbledon with the BBC this year — she is such a champ and will be missed.
Tracy Austin was talking to Lewis Steele