Emma Raducanu has a broken forehand – no wonder she is struggling for power

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Emma Raducanu has a broken forehand – no wonder she is struggling for power - ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES
Emma Raducanu has a broken forehand – no wonder she is struggling for power - ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

So, Emma, where did it all go wrong? This question has shades of the George Best legend – in which the hotel bellboy utters the immortal line while delivering champagne to Best’s luxury hotel room.

In Raducanu’s case, she is a multi-millionaire at the age of 19 with almost a dozen endorsement deals. “I'm a slam champion,” she told reporters in a confident and upbeat press conference on Wednesday night, “If anything, the pressure is on those who haven't done that.”

And yet, Raducanu’s results since the US Open have been moderate at best. Over the first six months of this season, she has accumulated nine wins and 12 defeats, with the most recent reverse coming on Wednesday against France’s Caroline Garcia.

So what has changed, what are the reasons, and what – if anything – can be done about it?

The symptoms

The issues with Raducanu’s game can be diagnosed in a sentence. To adapt a phrase from Bill Clinton’s White House: “It’s the forehand, stupid.”

If you go back and watch Wednesday’s match against Garcia, you won’t see Raducanu’s forehand spraying errors. The problem is that she wasn’t actually doing anything with the ball.

As one coach put it, “She was just putting her forehand back in court, and that allowed Garcia to play the match entirely on her own terms.” It was almost as if Raducanu was the straight woman in a comedy sketch, setting up the gags for the other person to put away.

This was not the Raducanu who reached the fourth round of last year’s Wimbledon. And it certainly wasn’t the Raducanu who won September’s US Open.

In New York, she was always in her opponent’s face, taking their time away and harrying them on almost every shot. How different to Wednesday, when Garcia must have felt like she was on easy street.

The reasons

To understand the regression in Raducanu’s forehand, you need to look at her history.

Her double-handed backhand has always been her favourite wing. It is completely natural, a shot she doesn’t even have to think about, and her sound technique means that it is never going to fold under pressure.

The forehand is a different story. Raducanu grew up hitting forehands with a very closed “semi-western” grip, and then spent a lot of time over the last two or three years trying to open that grip up.

This remedial work was started by the Belgian coach Philip Dehaes, and then Mark Petchey took over when the pandemic prevented Dehaes from travelling across the Channel from his native Belgium.

By the US Open, her mechanics were as close to perfect as anyone could expect. Raducanu was meeting the ball early, taking it out in front and transferring her weight beautifully through the shot. But these were not skills that were deeply embedded in her tennis psyche. Everything just came together perfectly for those three magical weeks.

Since the US Open, Raducanu’s forehand has begun to slip back towards old habits, and she has lost confidence on the shot. It has become stiff and extremely underpowered by the standards that she aspires to.

There is no sign of the forehand up the line – the high-risk, high-reward option – that made such an impact on her opponents in New York. Even the forehand drive volleys that she used to fine effect last year have completely disappeared from her game.

As a youngster: Raducanu naturally had a very closed grip with the racket face pointing at the ground rather than her opponent image.png
As a youngster: Raducanu naturally had a very closed grip with the racket face pointing at the ground rather than her opponent image.png
In the juniors: Raducanu was still using an extreme "semi-western" grip, which meant that she had to swing up - generating a lot of topspin and security - rather than swinging forward for greater ball-speed
In the juniors: Raducanu was still using an extreme "semi-western" grip, which meant that she had to swing up - generating a lot of topspin and security - rather than swinging forward for greater ball-speed
At Wimbledon 2021: Signs of progress, with Raducanu's grip being more open. As a result, she was able to meet the ball out in front of her, with the racket almost perpendicular to the ground
At Wimbledon 2021: Signs of progress, with Raducanu's grip being more open. As a result, she was able to meet the ball out in front of her, with the racket almost perpendicular to the ground
At Wimbledon 2022: Her swing shape has regressed slightly towards old habits as she struggled to make an impact in this year's tournament
At Wimbledon 2022: Her swing shape has regressed slightly towards old habits as she struggled to make an impact in this year's tournament

The solutions

This, too, is simple. Raducanu needs a coach. Not a consultant like Louis Cayer, nor a childhood mentor like Jane O’Donoghue – excellent tennis people though they both may be. She needs someone to take the reins and dictate the way she practises. At the moment, she is shaping her own training patterns and drilling bad habits even deeper into her muscle memory.

“You’d probably only need four to six weeks to whip the forehand into shape,” said one coach. “But it’s a matter of committing to a philosophy of what you’re trying to do. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to what’s going on at the moment, with all the chopping and changing. So even if you did fix the issue, it probably wouldn’t stay fixed for long.”

Worryingly, people close to the Raducanus say that there is little prospect of a significant long-term appointment being made. Her father, Ian, is well-known to have a low opinion of coaches in general. He feels that they are best used in short bursts, on the basis that most of them only have one or two useful things to say.

Ian Raducanu is also said to bemoan how expensive the whole sport is, even though his daughter is making up to £10m a year from endorsements. Feedback from coaches who have been sounded out about possible work with Emma suggests that the family may be reluctant to invest.

Is Ian’s thinking wrong? It has already delivered spectacular success. And yet the suspicion is growing that his pick-and-mix approach is better suited to growing a champion than to keeping her at the top of the game.

“I look at the way Emma’s tennis has slid back since last summer, and it is worrying,” said one experienced coach.

“Do you remember how Eugenie Bouchard had that one incredible season in 2014 where she beat a stack of top players and reached the Wimbledon final?” the coach added. “What happened next was that Bouchard seemed to take an interest in fashion and photoshoots and we hardly saw her on the big stage again.

“If Emma doesn’t do something to fix her coaching situation, and do it soon, I fear that she could go down the same road.”