Jig of joy as Emma Raducanu serves up a shot of euphoria: ROBERT HARDMAN watches as the tennis sensation wins her first match on Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court
For all the big fat corporate contracts, Vogue fashion shoots, film premieres and the MBE, there was still an endearing touch of the disbelieving Bromley schoolgirl yesterday as Britain’s number one savoured her first win on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Emma Raducanu jumped up and down with excitement and shook the umpire’s hand. Then she ran back on court again to skip a full 360-degree jig of joy.
It was the sort of reaction you might expect from someone who had just won a tournament, not from a reigning Grand Slam champion after squeezing through to the second round.
The 19-year-old celebrated her return to Wimbledon in style, jumping up and down with joy as she won her match in straight sets on her centre court debut
Raducanu was floating on a tidal wave of support by the end of her match against the Belgian
Emma’s mother Renee watched her daughter’s win from court side – along with plenty of celebrities enjoying the game too
Victory: Andy Murray punches the air after winning his first round match on centre court straight after Emma Raducanu last night
Her sentiment was replicated right around the All England Club among the crowds celebrating the first proper day of the first full Wimbledon tournament in three years.
Early rains had moved on, trains were running and Britain could at long last pin its Wimbledon hopes on someone other than Sir Andy Murray.
However, the fact that this was also Emma’s first appearance on Centre Court was a reminder of the extraordinary twists in the very brief Raducanu story so far.
This time last year, she was a rank outsider awaiting her A-level results. Three months later, she was lifting the trophy at the US Open and being congratulated by the Queen.
However, Covid and a string of low-level injuries have sought to spoil the fairy tale. This year opened with a series of defeats followed by her withdrawal from the usual Wimbledon warm-up at Eastbourne.
So a great deal was riding on yesterday’s first-round clash with Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck – by common consent a very tough opponent.
And Emma really wasn’t making it easy. Serving for the first time, she fluffed serve after serve, advantage point after advantage point.
At the outset, I talked to the crowd in front of the giant screen on what they used to call Henman Hill. An astonishing number of people had abandoned plum seats on Court 1 to come out and follow Emma on telly from the grassy slope.
Brighton accountant Lynn Lashbrook and her mother were among them. ‘I couldn’t not watch her game,’ said Lynn. ‘I’m just worried she’ll put too much pressure on herself.’
Taking my seat at Centre Court, I noticed that as the crowd got noisier, so did Emma. While Van Uytvanck was a study in expressionless perseverance, the teenager was bellowing like a shot-putter by the close of the first set.
The second started with another war of attrition as Emma took Van Uytvanck’s service to deuce an agonising seven times and still let the game go. She then let the Belgian take a 3-1 lead before the comeback finally started.
At which point the chorus of ‘Come on, Emma!’ started building. Just before 6pm, we had the first ‘Emma, will you marry me?’ It came from a well-refreshed man somewhere behind me. Not funny. Indeed, it felt rather creepy.
After the match was over Raducanu’s euphoria was deep and sincere – her meditating and personal mantras seemed to have done the trick
All the stars come out to play: Amanda Holden and daughter Trinny Woodall were decked out in Wimbledon colours on their visit to the courts yesterday
As the players took the final drinks break with the score at 5-4 in Emma’s favour, she appeared to be meditating while her opponent munched on a banana and swigged her water.
The teenager also appeared to mutter some sort of mantra, too. Whatever it was, it did the trick minutes later.
A mightily relieved Centre Court rose to its feet.
Emma’s euphoria was deep and sincere. As she explained afterwards, nothing – not even a US Open title – could take away the sheer thrill of her first match on this spot.
‘How many times do you get to walk out on to Centre Court?’ she asked. In her case, I suspect the answer will prove to be ‘more times than you can count’. But, for now, she was just savouring a rite of passage in the life of any young tennis pro.
To which I would add two small but telling observations – which you will not have seen on telly.
First, as she was heading for the exit, she was waylaid by the crowd. She posed for every selfie and dutifully signed every last ball, programme and baseball cap. Then, rather sweetly, she went looking for the person who lent her the pen in the first place.
Similarly, before she left the court, she cleared up her empty bottles and even chucked her half-eaten banana into her racket bag. While her opponent left a right old mess on her chair, Emma left not a trace.
I bet she was a prefect at that proud school of hers.
Becker’s fan club out in force as McEnroe says: We love you
By Inderdeep Bains and Israan Khan for the Daily Mail
Boris Becker may be in jail but there was support from his BBC colleagues at Wimbledon live on air yesterday.
While commentating on the Centre Court action, his friend John McEnroe said: ‘Boris we love you, we miss you man.’
While commentating on the Centre Court action, Becker’s friend John McEnroe said: ‘Boris we love you, we miss you man’ (Pictured: Miss de Carvalho Monterio next to Noah yesterday)
His sentiments were backed by veteran presenter Sue Barker, who added: ‘We do indeed, well said.’ Becker, 54, has been a regular fixture at SW19 since he first won Wimbledon in 1985 before becoming a commentator.
His girlfriend Lillian de Carvalho Monterio and son Noah, 28, were invited by defending champion Novak Djokovic to his box as he won his first match.
Becker was Djokovic’s coach for three years. The disgraced star will be watching the tennis from Huntercombe Prison, Oxfordshire, after being convicted of hiding £2.5million worth of assets to avoid debts.