As Emma Raducanu sat down in Madrid last month, the British No 1 was determined to give away as little as possible. The former US Open champion was asked 16 questions, ranging from her fitness ahead of the clay court tournament to her friendship with fellow British player Jodie Burrage, and Raducanu replied with a total of 58 words. After a series of short, sharp returns down the line, the press conference was cut short. A few hours later, Raducanu withdrew from Madrid due to a right hand injury.
On Wednesday, Raducanu posted an update from a hospital bed, her right hand wrapped in a cast. The news that the 20-year-old will miss the “next few months”, including Wimbledon, as she undergoes surgeries on both hands and her ankle belatedly provided some answers. Raducanu had been dealing with a recurring injury on a bone on the top of both hands, and had been playing through pain for the past 10 months. In Madrid, her frustration could no longer be downplayed.
That Raducanu has now opted to take decisive action is a positive step, even as it comes with the unquestionable blow of missing the French Open, Wimbledon, and perhaps even the US Open too depending on her recovery. Such a decision will not have been taken lightly but Raducanu was in a circle that couldn’t continue. The discomfort on the tops of her hands, as well as a lingering issue with her ankle, stemming from the Australian Open at the start of the year, impacted her practice load, training schedule, and fitness ahead of tournaments. Raducanu has played just 10 times this season – with five wins and five defeats – and was unable to build the consistency her season required.
Raducanu had looked forward to a “clean slate” in the wake of her first-round exit at the US Open, as she reflected on her first 12 months on tour with a positive sense of perspective, but what materialised was a continuation of some of the struggles that followed her sensational victory in New Year the previous September. A stop-start season was met with some of the same questions and scepticism around her focus and commitment, areas where Raducanu has recently looked to hit back on. It is no surprise she appeared so despondent and guarded in Madrid, given the narrative that would inevitably follow her withdrawal.
Amid such scrutiny, Raducanu’s decision to miss an entire summer, including her home grand slam, is one that can offer reassurance in the long term. With the attention and demands that would have been placed on Raducanu ahead of Wimbledon – where she would have featured prominently as one of the star attractions – it is at this stage far more important to ensure any health and fitness issues are corrected ahead of future years. It would be perhaps fair to question why Raducanu has delayed surgery until now, given the pain she has played through over the past months, but a recurrence ahead of or during Wimbledon would have been difficult to deal with – just as it was when she suffered a side strain ahead of the tournament last year.
Instead, surgery now offers the chance for a full reset. That will be immediately noticeable in terms of her ranking – with Raducanu already set to drop out of the top 100, before her withdrawal from the French Open and Wimbledon. But behind the scenes it will be more significant, and if these three minor operations are successful and fix the issues the 20-year-old has been dealing with then Raducanu can start to build the platform that will allow her to display her ability more consistently. The road back from surgery is rarely easy but amid the blow of the British No 1 being ruled out of Wimbledon, there is some sense that this can also be a step in the right direction.