Updated: Sep 21
Young tennis star Emma Raducanu has shot to fame after winning the US Open last week, climbing to 23rd in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) world ranking for singles play. The eighteen-year-old didn’t drop a single set in her run and caught the attention of the press earlier this year for her unmistakable talent. At Wimbledon however, Raducanu withdrew from the fourth round against Ajla Tomljanovic, as a personal choice due to dizziness and fatigue, which has seemingly followed a pattern of women athletes bowing out of high-stake competitions this year.
Raducanu, alongside a string of others, dominated sporting headlines earlier this summer because of their unfair treatment and personal choices leading them not to compete.
Many of these women received abuse online. The US sprinting favourite for the Tokyo Olympics, Sha’Carri Richardson, was disqualified in July after testing positive for marijuana, for which she apologised and claimed it was to help her cope with the passing of her mother the week previously.
Simone Biles, the US gymnastics champion, also didn’t compete in the Tokyo Olympics, citing mental health reasons for her decision to drop out. Although most of the coverage was sympathetic and positive, some commentators took to blaming her for not being “tough enough” to compete and lacking resilience.
Similar stories took centre-stage online when tennis player Naomi Osaka decided not to play at Wimbledon for mental health reasons and US track and field athlete, Brianna McNeal, suffered from a five-year competition suspension after missing a doping test because she was recovering from an abortion.
"Raducanu didn’t need Morgan’s advice, nor McEnroe’s to win the US Open."
Most of these online (with want for a better word) “commentators”, like our British born and bred, Piers Morgan, share a vehemence for shaming and slating these young talents; taking to Twitter to present their disapproval of the women’s decisions. Morgan accused Biles of letting her country down, stating; “there’s nothing heroic or brave about quitting because you’re not having ‘fun’”. He attacked Raducanu on Twitter, claiming she “couldn’t handle the pressure” and to take former tennis player McEnroe’s advice to “toughen up and become a champion like he was”.
It came as no surprise, but with exhausting hypocrisy, that when Raducanu won the US Open, critics like Morgan were among the first to congratulate her and the distinctly British victory.
Raducanu was born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, moving to the UK when she was two years old. She speaks fluent Mandarin, and it has been suggested that her distinct red, blue and yellow outfit was a subtle nod to her Romanian heritage.
Her family history has been widely celebrated but has also highlighted a point of tension and discomfort for those wanting to claim Emma’s win as irrevocably British. Unambiguous overuse of the Union Jack emoji signalled some of these claims to Raducanu’s success online, lacking the subtlety of her own recognition of her roots.
"What Emma’s triumph has brought to the fore is a uniquely British insecurity and [...] is also reflective of a culture of extreme discomfort in successful women asserting power over their own lives, bodies, and careers."
Nigel Farage, notorious for his dislike of ‘foreigners’, received backlash too when he congratulated Raducanu as a “global megastar”. Many pointed to his comments in 2014 where he claimed that people “would be worried if a group of Romanians moved in next door”, to which he insisted he was only referring to Romanian criminal gangs.
What Emma’s triumph has brought to the fore is a uniquely British insecurity and search for validation, but it is also reflective of a culture of extreme discomfort in successful women asserting power over their own lives, bodies, and careers.
Raducanu didn’t need Morgan’s advice, nor McEnroe’s to win the US Open. Biles, as a former patient of abuser Larry Nassar, has suffered a great deal too at the hand of predatory men. And stories like McNeal’s and Richardson’s paint a picture of the unforgiving regulations that leave no room for grievance or trauma, especially those experienced by women.
Once again, British stoicism and self-doubt have failed to give credit where it’s due. For now, we can stop claiming Emma Raducanu’s victory as our own and let her revel in her win a little longer.
Emilia is a History MSc student at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in Holocaust and Genocide studies. She is the Opinions Editor at DGN and works for youth-led organisation, Yet Again reporting on modern atrocity.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.