How Emma Raducanu's new coach is motivating her to become a serial champion

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Emma Raducanu of Great Britain practices alongside coach Torben Beltz at Albert Park courts during day one of the 2022 Australian Open on January 17, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. - GETTY IMAGES
Emma Raducanu of Great Britain practices alongside coach Torben Beltz at Albert Park courts during day one of the 2022 Australian Open on January 17, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. - GETTY IMAGES

As Emma Raducanu continues her quest to become a serial champion, her new coach Torben Beltz has switched to a different motivational tool than the one he used so successfully with his previous client – 2018 Wimbledon winner Angelique Kerber.

As Raducanu prepared for Thursday morning’s second-round meeting with world No98 Danka Kovinic, she revealed that Beltz is no longer offering forfeits – such as skydiving, shaving his head or jumping into the Yarra River – in the event that she achieves something remarkable.

Instead, Beltz is focusing on smaller, more repeatable bonuses – all of them involving food. If Raducanu performs well in her on-court drills, she can expect to pick up a packet of mints, a frozen yoghurt, or a serving of acai.

“No forfeits yet,” Raducanu said on Tuesday night, as she bathed in the afterglow of her first-round win over Sloane Stephens. “[But] he does reward me for good behaviour. If I do a drill well he will bribe me with some mints.

“The only thing that we're [playing for] are acai bowls and frozen yoghurt. I think I've racked up three acai bowls from him, not gonna lie.”

On the off-chance that you have never come across an acai bowl, it involves sliced fruit stacked over a frozen purple sorbet made from the berries of the acai plant, which itself grows on a kind of South American palm. Although some London sandwich shops stock acai, this trendy superfood is more often found in a warm climate like Melbourne’s.

Raducanu has presumably been picking up her snacks in the player restaurant, as she has had precious time to explore the city. Asked whether she was enjoying her second trip to Melbourne – where she lost in the opening round of the 2019 junior event – she replied ruefully that she had been spending 12 hours a day at the Melbourne Park tennis centre, which she referred to as “the club”.

“It's a well-known fact I literally spend 12 hours a day at the club, and everyone in my team is, like, ‘What are you doing?’” Raducanu said. “But I feel like I don't know where the time goes.

“I don't even hang out and talk to anyone. I'm just doing training. Then having lunch, recovery, and then training again. And then gym and then more recovery. So I'm here from like, 8.30am to 7.30pm. I don’t know what’s happening!”

How is the mood in the locker-room, now that Raducanu is as a major champion and top-20 seed rather than a mere qualifier? “Everyone's still, like, very nice to me,” she replied. “I do speak to the Romanian players. Like Gabby [Gabriela Ruse], my great friend. She played at the Royal Albert Hall. We're really close. And some of the Chinese players have a locker right next to me. So it was just interactions there and stuff.”

Raducanu’s long working days paid off on Tuesday, when she defied her lack of form and matches to defeat former US Open champion Stephens in three sets: 6-0, 2-6, 6-1.

Emma Raducanu of Great Britain celebrates winning a point in her first round singles match against Sloane Stephens of United States during day 2 of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. - GETTY IMAGES
Emma Raducanu of Great Britain celebrates winning a point in her first round singles match against Sloane Stephens of United States during day 2 of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. - GETTY IMAGES

If she started with excellent tempo and accuracy, handing out that first-set bagel in just 16 minutes, the errors began to creep in as the match wore on. Even so, she maintained a terrific fighting spirit, relying on sheer grit and gumption when all else failed. As a result, she now has 11 wins from the 12 matches she has played at the majors.

Unlike Andrew Richardson – the former coach who offered plenty of fist-clenching support at the US Open – Beltz remained seated throughout the match. He is a low-key figure, who likes to keep the camp as relaxed as possible. But Raducanu’s co-agent Chris Helliar was up and down like a jack-in-the-box. “Chris was doing squats a lot,” she said. “He was complaining after.”

Raducanu’s next match will pit her against Kovinic, the world No98 from Montenegro, which brings a different dynamic into play. This will be the first time at a grand-slam event that Raducanu walks out as a heavy favourite.

Kovinic has at least made it through the first round this year, after failing to win a single game against Ashleigh Barty at the equivalent stage of the 2021 Australian Open. But she did drop a set against Jang Su-jeong, the world No210, and has a limited range of attacking options.

On paper, this looks a straightforward assignment, but tennis psychology is complex, and the hike in expectation could be disruptive. A good time, then, to have a skilled communicator like Beltz on hand. “He brings some great positive energy,” said Raducanu of the 45-year-old German. “So to have that in your corner is definitely an uplifting thing.”

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