By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) The US Open women’s final for teenage sensation Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez on Saturday has sailed smoothly, but even before either of them has had a chance to hoist the trophy, there are warnings of stormy waters in the ahead.
18-year-old Briton Raducanu and 19-year-old Canadian Fernandez have set the sport on fire with their fearless play and joie-de-vivre.
But when the tournament ends, they will step out of their Grand Slam dream into the cold reality of the daily grind, weighed down by expectations and obligations that weren’t part of their lives two weeks ago.
The US Open may be over, but next Monday many fans will expect Raducanu and Fernandez to continue to compete at the same extraordinary level as in New York.
Everyone will want them, every tournament wants them to play, said Ashley Keber, the WTA Tours vice president of membership relations, who leads a team that develops programs and resources for players and their teams.
Virtual strangers as the year began, Raducanu and Fernandez are no longer anonymous faces to New York crowds chanting their names and celebrities praising social media.
After her semi-final victory over Maria Sakkari on Thursday, Raducanu was asked by a reporter what it felt like to be the most famous person in Britain.
A lot to digest for a tennis-loving schoolgirl taking her A-levels, high school final exams in June.
From royalty to the Prime Ministers of Canada and Great Britain to sports stars and celebrities, the world has noticed and so has the WTA.
While the WTA has programs to help players cope with the demands of the sport, Keber acknowledged that Raducanu and Fernandez need a little more zeal.
As the Serena, Venus Williams era draws to a close, the timing of the teens’ arrival is impeccable as tennis seems to fill a void with marketable, compelling personalities.
Protecting these assets from additional stress will be a priority.
It will take some extra attention, Keber told Reuters. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and on the biggest sporting stage, so both women participated in our mentoring sessions, for example.
This will be a vulnerable time for them to win or lose and it’s not just the next few days. It will be many months, and I think this is where their teams can contact us.
It was magical in the Big Apple as the youngsters produced upset after upset and outclassed a succession of veteran opponents.
Their time in New York has not been hampered by the burden of expectations and the pressures that come with it.
The song New York, New York says: If I can make it there, Ill make it somewhere, and Raducanu and Fernandez will soon find out.
Now there is no pressure at all on her (Fernandez), said second seed Aryna Sabalenka after she was knocked out in the semifinals by the 73rd Canadian. The audience is there for her. You kind of feel a crush and you use it, hitting the ball, not really thinking, everything goes in.
This is a nice kind of feeling. I felt it before.
But the question is when you start to understand what’s going on and where you are, how well can you handle all these expectations and all this level, all this pressure.
You don’t have to search hard to find cautionary tales.
Fernandez and Raducanu have an invincible look, but so did Naomi Osaka.
As a 20-year-old, Osaka was anointed with tennis as the next big thing in 2018, winning the first of her four Grand Slam titles at the same Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The three years that followed were challenging for Osaka, who struggled to cope with the crushing expectations that focused on athletes’ mental health.
Beaten https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/us-open-champion-osaka-loses-third-round-canadian-fernandez-2021-09-04 in the third round by Fernandez last week, the distraught defending champion left Flushing Meadows, saying she didn’t know when she would play again.
We’ve seen this before and that’s where we’re getting our knowledge and trying to get ahead of some of these items, Keber said. We can’t predict on an individual level, but we’ve seen some of the warning signs in general.
Let’s face it, times are tough, people are growing, they are going to make mistakes.
It doesn’t mean it will be perfect or a smooth path, but how can we make it as smooth as possible.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in New York; editing by William Mallard)
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