Leagues and Governing Bodies

Tennis stars are born at U.S. Open, but trappings of fame, pressure await

Tennis observers have commented on Emma Raducanu's aura of joy while playing, expressing hope that this approach continues GETTY IMAGES

Teenage tennis players Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, the breakout stars of this U.S. Open, are on to the semifinals, and their emerging fame is "an experience that has swallowed plenty of teen phenoms whole as their lives begin to fill with obligations to sponsors and to live up to the expectations that their stirring performances have wrought," according to Matthew Futterman of the N.Y. TIMES. Win or lose, the "klieg lights that always follow the kind of breakout performances" from the U.K.'s Raducanu and Canada's Fernandez "will undoubtedly arrive." Belinda Bencic, whom Raducanu beat to advance to the semis, said of the two young players, "I just really hope that everyone will protect them. Not try to kind of, not destroy but, put so much pressure and so much hype around them so it just gets too much" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/9).

BEYOND THE SPOTLIGHT: In L.A., Helene Elliott writes it is "vital to remember" that Raducanu's path "has been followed by many young tennis players but traveled safely and happily by few." Elliott: "Tennis has a way of building up prodigies before chewing them up and spitting them out." Not all are "fortunate enough to find help and regain solid footing in the sport or in life." The intensity of the pressure and expectations heaped on young athletes "can be frightening, and not all of them have family, friends or medical professionals to help them handle the escalating demands fame brings." It would be "tragic if the fairy tales being lived by Raducanu and Fernandez become cautionary tales." Elliott: "May they continue their parallel journeys with much success, a minimum of stress and all the joy they've shown here during their first steps into the spotlight" (L.A. TIMES, 9/9).

UP FOR THE CHALLENGE? In London, Matthew Syed writes Raducanu is a "marvel to behold," the "joy oozing from her frame as she exchanged shots" with Bencic. Syed: "And isn't it so often the secret of long-term success? To take pleasure in the game, to see it as a vocation rather than a profession." When reaching the top early, the toughest variables "emerge not from opponents on the other side of the net but from the dynamics of fame." After becoming rich and famous, "all the classic temptations materialise, not least the virus of complacency." Syed: "Why train hard if you are surrounded by sycophants, huge sponsorship income and offers to appear on the celebrity circuit?" Syed writes his "growing expectation" is that the "impressive youngster will prove equal to the task." She seems "grounded, mature, and to have the precious benefit of a strong team around her" (London TIMES, 9/9).

JOY DIVISION: ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said the N.Y. crowd “loves” Fernandez. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon noted the “joy she brings to the arena.” Wilbon: “The crowd plays to her, because she’s excited.” While bringing up Naomi Osaka, Wilbon said of Fernandez, “The joy that this young woman -- a teenager, just turned 19 -- brings stands in stark comparison. I hope Naomi Osaka can find that, because I’m sure she had that, I hope it’s still in her. But this is just oozing out (of Fernandez), and you can’t help but feel affected by it.” Kornheiser: “What she does is joyful, and we have too many tennis players who seem tortured by what they do for a living” (“PTI,” ESPN, 9/8).

BRINGING THEIR "EH" GAME: In N.Y., Christopher Clarey writes Felix Auger-Aliassime and Fernandez are "part of a new wave of Canadian tennis stars who are changing the image of the game in their country, reflecting its increased diversity." Their breakthrough marks the first time Canada has had "two singles semifinalists at the U.S. Open." It comes after other Canadian success at Grand Slams: Bianca Andreescu won the '19 U.S. Open women's singles title and Denis Shapovalov reached the men's semifinals at Wimbledon this year. Meanwhile, Tennis Canada "has not helped all the players to the same degree." Shapovalov and Fernandez have often worked independently, but Tennis Canada President & CEO Michael Downey said the federation "has provided some level of support -- be it financial or in the form of wild cards and training opportunities -- to all four of its young stars." Downey said, “All this just reinforces that there is no one way for a great player to be developed. As a federation we are there as a facilitator whether that’s developing hands-on with Felix or helping in other ways." Downey, like the Canadian players, is "well aware that this is a breakthrough moment for tennis in Canada, one that it is important not to squander" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/9).

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