If you were thinking of booking a local tennis court for a game this week it just got a bit harder. Hopefully more people will get the urge to have a go at a game that can give a lifetime of fun, healthy exercise and friendships. An eighteen year old born of a Roumanian father and Chinese mother just beat another eighteen year old a few months older who has an Ecuadorian dad and Filipino mum, in the US Open tennis final. All these parents are migrants. Emma Raducanu happens to be English and Leylah Fernandez Canadian.
Inevitably Johnson and the Queen trumpeted her for making the country ‘proud’ but both young women are products of a globalised, multicultural world. They are light years away from rightwing, Conservative or even some Labour notions of a white British identity to be defended against migrants and the apparent ‘dilution’ of national culture. While Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is this week trying to physically push migrant boats back to France against all maritime and international law, her Prime Minister is lauding the achievements of two women born of four migrants.
When Raducanu was forced to retire in the fourth round at Wimbledon with breathing difficulties rent-a-quote TV presenter, Piers Morgan, lamented her lack of mental toughness. John McEnroe, who usually talks a lot of sense, speculated that it was ‘too much for her’. Would they have made such comments of a young male player?
Well after playing three matches to qualify then win another seven without dropping a single set all against players with many more years experience and a higher ranking, I think she has smashed all that rubbish. She and her opponent showed a hell of a lot more grace and poise in how they conducted themselves that these pundits. The way they embraced at the end of the match is the true spirit of sport, we are likely to see many more of these images if they both stay healthy.
Raducanu’s meteoric rise has not been matched by any other female or male player – or in any other sport I can think of. The only possible comparison was Boris Becker who won Wimbledon at seventeen, but he had played the junior circuit for some years. Her success was based on regular access to training and coaching from eight years up. Genius and natural talent are often overrated – it is only one component in success and never sufficient on its own.
It still remains the case that tennis is not as open to working class players as say football. Socialists should be arguing for particular efforts and resources to be made available to change this. It is not only for potential elite players but for everybody at all ages. One example that could be built on that I know about (and participate in) is Hackney Council’s New Age Games programme for the over 50s. The local Hackney tennis club, based on the park courts with a fine community programme, has linked with the council to provide regular twice weekly sessions including coaching. A number of people, particularly women, have taken up a racket for the first time after fifty and have become enthusiasts. Any joined up government healthy living programme needs to incorporate such projects.
Finally another aspect of the Raducanu story is her now well known A star and A scores in Maths and Economics A levels. They are two of the hardest A levels to do well in. In the past there has often been a crude opposition between a ‘sports jock’ mentality and being a ‘swot’. Just as we have seen with Rashford, Mings and other footballers, sportspeople are more educated and informed than in the past. This also partly explains their willingness to align with Black Lives Matter or take up the issue of mental illness.
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