The Liverpool Tennis Center is a world away from the glitz and glamor of Flushing Meadows. Squeezed into the back of a public park, off the main west coast track, it’s a nondescript spot.
However, it is home to a remarkable story: because this is where the teenager, who is currently the most talked about sportswoman in the world, developed the winning habit. Emma Raducanu will never forget New York, but she will also never forget the suburb of Wavertree.
In June 2015, the newly crowned US Open champion was recruited to play a junior event at the Liverpool International Tournament. The competition was launched in 2002, the brainchild of Anders Borg, an ambitious Norwegian, to give players another opportunity to prepare for Wimbledon.
Emma Raducanu, then 12 years old, with Anders Borg after her success in 2015
Russia’s Marat Safin – the world’s No. 1 at the time – was the inaugural winner of the men’s event, when it was held at nearby Calderstones Park.
However, what Borg really wanted to do was provide a platform for the players of the future. The past two decades have seen some of the biggest names in Liverpool, including Novak Djokovic (2005), Caroline Wozniacki (2006) and Eugenie Bouchard (2010).
But when Raducanu played, Borg – an Arsenal fanatic who lives in Oslo – was aware that a different type of talent had arrived. She has shown over the past two weeks that she will not hesitate to push the boundaries and that was certainly the case in Liverpool.
“I believe she was 12 when she came to us,” Borg tells Sportsmail via Zoom. “Normally you can’t play under 18 if you’re under 13, but she was about to turn 13. The fact that she was able to compete in – and win – an under-18 event? Wow. When you saw the physical differences between the girls she played, she was little then.
Raducanu was allowed to play in the tournament in Liverpool despite underage
“She did the same setup as in America. Win six matches against top opponents from around the world. It was just incredible. I could not believe my eyes. The first time she won an ITF Under 18. She was so humble, so articulate and polite. And then she had that smile that could warm anyone’s heart. I think that’s why she’s become so popular.
“Emma was committed, but it was just the way she always kept the ball in play. She gave everything back. Her mother was super sweet, so polite. Emma herself was the same and very intelligent. She speaks fluent Mandarin and Romanian. She’s so smart, the full package.’
Borg has put his heart and soul into the event, which often goes under the radar, and he’s been privileged to see up close what makes a champion.
For example, the magic Raducanu radiates was something that Djokovic, who failed to win the Grand Slam on the calendar on Sunday, also radiated.
Teen Emma Raducanu holds US Open trophy after beating Leylah Fernandez
‘With Novak, you could just hear it in the sound of his racket,’ explains Borg. “It was different, cleaner, like nothing I’d heard before. Like “woof”. He was 17 and it sounded magical. There was no doubt, I realized, he went many places.
“With David Ferrer, he was incredible in a different way. He would be at the gym in the morning, then he would play. He would then go back to the practice lanes and finish the day at the gym. It was a daily routine, six hours working on his playing and physical skills. His dedication was spot on.
“Caroline Wozniacki had a game where she didn’t make mistakes, she always put pressure on her rivals. Eugenie Bouchard entered the Wimbledon final in 2014, four years after she won in Liverpool.’
However, the story that Raducanu has gone on to produce is something out of the realm of fantasy. Borg calls it the greatest Grand Slam win of all time, and while acknowledging her life has changed beyond imagination, he’s sure she’ll never forget that first success.
The 18-year-old Briton sensationally won the US Open without losing a single set
“There has been an explosion in confidence and ability,” Borg says. “Six months ago she was in 338th place. Wimbledon was important to her. Going through that (giving up her match), for her to take a stick at it, it built her inner faith and character.
“She would never let that happen again. In retrospect, that was valuable to her. We have put Liverpool on the international map in tennis. It would not be associated with it, but for our event. Tennis is a sport for life and the more children we can participate in, the better it is.
“I know she loved Liverpool and I know she has very fond memories.”
Raducanu was number 338 in the world rankings before progressing to the Wimbledon quarter-finals