Emma Raducanu may be US Open women’s champion, but when it came to trading volleys with the Duchess of Cambridge her tennis mantra was: “Don’t miss, don’t miss”.
Raducanu, 18, revealed her nerves after she played a practice session with Kate, a keen tennis fan and player, and Britain’s other Flushing Meadows title winners during a homecoming event for the sports stars.
Billed as a warm-up session it quickly became competitive, but the duchess – patron of the Lawn Tennis Association – held her own with the tennis champs.
Joe Salisbury the US Open mixed doubles and men’s doubles champion, and wheelchair players Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid – who successfully defended their US Open doubles title – also joined them on court.
Afterwards during an online BBC show, Raducanu was asked if she had more nerves playing Kate or her US Open finals opponent Leylah Fernandez, and replied: “I was actually very nervous playing the duchess – I was like: ‘Don’t miss, don’t miss’.”
Before the group picked up their racquets the duchess praised the champions: “Amazing guys, honestly, congratulations to all of you – it’s seriously impressive. It’s so nice to see all of you back here in your home countries to celebrate.”
Raducanu has been on a whirlwind ride since her historic win in New York earlier this month ended the nation’s 44-year wait for a women’s Grand Slam champion.
Earlier, beside the court the 18-year-old said about Kate: “Her forehand was incredible. I was very impressed. It was a lot of fun to play tennis with the duchess.”
Kate had arrived wearing her tennis gear – trainers, skirt and sports top – and carrying her own racquet for the knock-up hosted by the LTA Youth programme at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, south-west London.
Sam Richardson, the LTA head of programmes, told the players not to be too competitive, but his plea was quickly forgotten as the duchess and Raducanu played against the wheelchair pair. “It’s getting competitive already!” he said after one scorching rally.
The 18-year-old female tennis star said: “We were definitely ramping it up after the short warm-up and everyone was definitely competitive.”
As the five of them played in various different combinations, the tennis became fast and furious, with some long rallies, and after one of Kate’s winners, Mr Richardson said: “Lovely point!”
He was impressed by the duchess’ performance, and said afterwards: “I think she was perhaps a bit nervous, as anyone would be coming on against four Grand Slam champions. But she held her own – she was brilliant.
“Her forehand in particular was very strong. I think she hit two shots that landed plum on the line. That’s a pretty good shot. She looked like she was having a good time, and was playing well.”
Salisbury said: “It was really good fun. I was very impressed by Kate’s level. She obviously loves it, and has played a lot before, but it was good fun to be on court with her. Her forehand was very good.”
During the event Raducanu announced she had split from her coach Andrew Richardson following her US Open triumph and is seeking an experienced mentor to help guide her through her next steps on tour.
She said: “I feel like at this stage in my career, and playing the top players in the world, I realised I really need someone right now that has had that WTA Tour experience at the high levels, which means that I’m looking for someone who has been at that level and knows what it takes.”