For much of the past few months, as she travelled the world without a permanent coach and assured all who asked that she could succeed while in full control of her destiny, Emma Raducanu’s decisions were the subject of intense, constant attention. She may have now addressed those concerns, but there will be no end to the inspection of her choices.
Earlier this week Raducanu enlisted the coaching talents of the former top 20 ATP player, Dmitry Tursunov, as her coach on a trial period ahead of the North American hard court swing and her US Open title defence. The hiring of Tursunov, a Russian coach, has led to significant criticism of her decision to work alongside a Russian person as the invasion of Ukraine continues.
It is yet another instance of the extreme scrutiny that has surrounded Raducanu’severy decision since her US Open victory. If she is to stand a chance of following up her breakthrough last year and sustaining a successful career, she will need to block it all out.
Raducanu now counts politicians among those monitoring her, with Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, telling the Telegraph: “The Kremlin will portray this as a PR coup and an indication that the UK doesn’t really care about the war in Ukraine, so it’ll be a real shame if Emma goes ahead with this.”
Three weeks ago, despite all of Wimbledon’s efforts to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at their event, a decision that has led to significant fines from the WTA and legal appeals in response, the tournament still ended with a Russian-born player who resides in Moscow winning the women’s singles title.
Even though Elena Rybakina’s success while representing Kazakhstan is a damning indictment of the Russian tennis system that failed her, in the end Wimbledon found itself at the mercy of the Russian propaganda it had strived to avoid. “Well done Rybakina. We have won the Wimbledon tournament,” said Shamil Tarpishev, the disgraced president of the Russian Tennis Federation, to RIA Novosti.
It should have been a lesson for all. There are very few things that Russia’s propaganda cannot twist to suit its narrative, no matter how little reality it is based on. In this case, a private citizen hiring the private services of an independent contractor who is Russian, with the simple hopes of improving her career, should not be grounds for such outrage or controversy.
What is clear is that Raducanu has endured a brutal first full season on the WTA, with a constant series of injuries that included a side strain that scuppered most of the grass season. She is just 9-12 this year and she now faces the pressure and difficulty of a grand slam defence.
As she heads to the US, Raducanu has chosen a coach with a proven record for a trial in the hope that he will help her on to the right path. Tursunov has enjoyed notable success in his short time as a coach. In his first high-profile pairing with Aryna Sabalenka in 2018, he guided her from her ranking of 45th to 9th until they split at the end of 2019.
Last season Tursunov pulled off an even more impressive feat with Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, rising from 29th to a career high of second at the time of their split after the French Open last month. Their partnership immediately began with a startling 28-2 run at the end of last year, which included four titles, increasing Tursunov’s profile as a coach.
The reason for their split should be of far more interest to Raducanu. In the final months of his work with Kontaveit, he was frequently unable to travel with Kontaveit due to visa issues, leading to her decision to part ways from him. It remains to be seen if Tursunov will be able to travel enough with Raducanu to succeed.
As a player, Tursunov was popular and known for speaking openly in interviews, and last November he gave his own blunt take on Raducanu’s coaching situation: “If someone from her team called me now and asked if I wanted to train her, I would tremble with fear because you don’t know when you will be fired,” he said. In the end, he took the call.