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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Emma Raducanu should emulate the Novak Djokovic model of relentless improvement

So how should Raducanu address the next phase of her career? The best model to emulate would be Novak Djokovic, who also arrived with a remarkably well balanced game and struck success early, winning his first major at the age of 20.

There are so many sentences that would apply both to Raducanu and the young Djokovic. He is a lithe athlete and a slick well-balanced mover. Her greatest strength is her return. His backhand is his more natural shot but he has souped up his forehand to become a real weapon. Her slice is a good defensive option which could be used more to change the pace. Neither of them likes an overhead much, and both are very effective in coming forward to kill the point at the net – even if a volley snob like Tim Henman could probably pick holes in their technique if he tried hard enough.

Now 34, Djokovic has evolved into the complete player, whose defeat to Daniil Medvedev on Sunday night had absolutely nothing to do with his game, and everything to do with a combination of mental and physical fatigue. Opposing coaches often throw up their hands, because it is all but impossible to formulate a winning strategy against him.

In a small way, this could be said of Raducanu too. It’s not obvious where to attack her. But then that is partly because the sample sizes are so small. We haven’t seen her go up against a real power merchant yet, like Aryna Sabalenka or an in-form Naomi Osaka. We haven’t seen her play a touch specialist in the class of Ashleigh Barty.

And then there are the even bigger and more significant unknowns, especially the question of how Raducanu will cope with the bizarre, peripatetic lifestyle of a tennis pro. Osaka is clearly struggling with that at the moment, while Bianca Andreescu – who won the US Open at 19 – still has her appetite for the game, but has become frustratingly injury-prone.

Raducanu – again like Djokovic – is a highly analytical and ambitious character. As long as she can avoid these major pitfalls, her game will naturally keep evolving. Time on court is all she needs, as there are no immediate fixes required.

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