Who is Sonay Kartal? British hero emerging from Emma Raducanu’s shadow at Wimbledon

Kevin Palmer
Sonay Kartal in action at Wimbledon
Sonay Kartal in action at Wimbledon

When the early footage of Emma Raducanu playing in junior tennis emerged after her stunning 2021 US Open win, the young player on the other side of the net didn’t get too much of a mention.

Amid the euphoria of Raducanu’s incredible success in New York, all eyes were on the new superstar of the women’s game and yet the footage of her playing in an under-12s match ended with a victory for her opponent.

That opponent was Sonay Kartal.

The same Sonay Kartal who has just made it through to the third round of Wimbledon after coming through qualifying to play at the biggest tournament of the tennis year and now she will play US Open champion Coco Gauff.

Kartal had to qualify for this year’s Championships after she had battled with undisclosed health problems for much of the past year, but she put those issues to one side to produce an excellent career-best victory against 29th seed Sorana Cirstea on Monday.

It set up a showdown with world No 45 Burel and Kartal recovered from losing a 3-0 lead in set two to edge the decider and become the first home player through to the last-32 at the All England Club.

“Today is a really special day for me,” said Kartal. “To have people out there who have been with me since I was six. Monday was a high and now I have topped that today.

“I just tried to put everything behind me. When I needed the crowd the most they helped me in that third set. I owe that to you guys today.

“I had a tough start to the year, I didn’t know what I would be doing this year.

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“To come back in and go straight into the deep end, and have my biggest wins so far since recovering, I’m super proud of that.”

Those of us who have followed Sonay’s story over the past couple of years appreciate the magnitude of this sporting fairytale.

She has asked for the nature of her health issues at the start of the year to remain private, but they were serious enough to put a big question mark over her tennis career.

That makes this Wimbledon success all the more special, with Kartal’s eagerness to thank the people around her in his post-match interview payback for the support she has needed this year.

Supported by the LTA’s The Pro Scholarship Programme, she is backed the British governing body of tennis financially and in a variety of other areas, with this Wimbledon success reward for all those who have helped her on her journey.

Short in stature, Kartal makes up for the physical disadvantage she often faces against her opponents with a drive and passion that was in evidence as she battled back from adversity to beat Burel on Wednesday at Wimbledon.

And when she spoke to Tennis365 last year, she looked back on her early matches against Raducanu and suggested her US Open success was an inspiration for all British players.

“I grew up playing Emma, so it proves to me that the dream of making it in tennis is not too far away,” Kartal told us.

“It has put into perspective for all the British players just how possible it could be to break through.

“Emma’s success is just crazy. The fact that she hadn’t even won a single match in a WTA event and then went out and won the US Open… it was just crazy.

“I sent her a text to say well done after the win in New York and there is no jealousy from my end. Just a realisation that we can all do it if we push hard and take our chances.”

Kartal may have got fed up answering questions about her junior matches against Raducanu, but she accepts the questions are inevitable.

“I remembered the match when we were nine and the point that was replayed so many times so well. Luckily I hit the winning shot at the end of it,” she added.

“The interest in those videos went around the world and I was in Turkey two weeks ago playing an event and some Italian coaches came up to me as they knew I was the girl on the clips playing Raducanu.

“My story is a little different to Emma’s because I have had some injury problems that have hampered me, but we can all take inspiration from her success.”

Kartal was named in Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup team alongside Raducanu in 2022, but her health issues have contributed to a dip in form and fortunes in the last year.

Now Sonay is back on top and her two wins at Wimbledon will ensure she has a new career-high ranking into the top 200 on the WTA list when Wimbledon concludes.

This is a feel-good tennis story to celebrate and whatever happens against Gauff in round three, this Wimbledon has provided Kartal with a launchpad to reignite her career.