Martina Navratilova dismisses Emma Raducanu ‘fluke’ claims as she highlights a ‘handicap’

Ewan West
Emma Raducanu in action
Emma Raducanu of Great Britain looks on during her tennis match

Tennis icon Martina Navratilova has rejected suggestions Emma Raducanu winning the 2021 US Open was a “fluke” as she declared the Brit “has got that level.”

The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion believes, though, that Raducanu’s major victory has “become a handicap” because the expectations placed on her “have gone sky-high.”

Raducanu shocked the tennis world by becoming the first player in history to win a Grand Slam title as a qualifier when she triumphed at Flushing Meadows in 2021.

The then 18-year-old, who was ranked 150th in the world at the time, did not drop a set in her 10 matches across qualifying and the main draw during a staggering run.

The current world No 288 won back-to-back matches for the first time in a year at the 2024 Indian Wells Open, where she was beaten by Aryna Sabalenka in the third round last week.

The 21-year-old has withdrawn from the WTA 1000 tournament in Miami, where she was set to compete as a wildcard, due to a back injury. Raducanu made her return from an eight-month absence in January, having undergone surgery on both her wrists and her ankle last year.

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Speaking to Sky Sports, Navratilova highlighted how the expectations raised from Raducanu’s US Open win have made the period since her huge breakthrough difficult.

“It was amazing when she won but it’s become a handicap because the expectations have gone sky-high,” the former world No 1 said.

“It wasn’t a fluke because Emma has got that level. It wasn’t just she played great tennis and then all of a sudden she can’t play, but the pressure that’s been on her since then — particularly being a Brit — you can’t get away from it.

“It’s a big burden to carry, but hopefully she’ll get back to it and most of all she needs to get healthy and stay healthy – and, that way, you can build on that.

“It’s hard to build any confidence and momentum from winning because you don’t stay healthy enough to win. It’s a nasty Catch 22 where you can win with confidence but you can’t have confidence without winning.

“Hopefully she’ll get healthy and stay healthy so we’ll see her talent again.”

The Czech-American also thinks the WTA Tour is in a good place due to the success of the likes of Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff.

“I still feel the game is evolving and we’ll see some new faces but I think the chances are that No 1 at the end of the year will be either Swiatek or Sabalenka,” Navratilova added.

“I don’t know if anyone can overtake them, but Gauff is definitely nipping at their heels having won the US Open, and there are new players coming through so it’s a great time in women’s tennis. The game is in good shape.”

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