Emma Raducanu taps into ‘Cluj vibe’ as Romanian tennis flourishes | Emma Raducanu


THESunday afternoon in Cluj-Napoca, the last day before new Covid-19 restrictions force sold-out sessions of the Transylvanian Open to be played behind closed doors, Emma Raducanu and a group of players Romanians bid farewell to the crowd with individual and emotional speeches. As the players cheered each other on, it was the first indication of the enthusiasm with which Raducanu had been welcomed into the fold of Romanian tennis.

Raducanu’s victory at the US Open generated intense media coverage and his paternal Romanian roots were an immediate source of pride for many, but in some areas also led to a debate over his identity. “In addition to Bianca Andreescu’s case, it was on social media,” said Adrian Toca, founder of the Romanian tennis publication. Treizecizero. “All this talk, this talk. Some people would say, “Why should we support her? She is not Romanian. Others that she has Romanian origins.

Last week was a complete victory for the latter point of view. During her time in Cluj, where she reached her first quarterfinal of the WTA Tour before a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Marta Kostyuk, she was well received by all, and it is remarkable how the players Romanians invited her to their group. .

Elena-Gabriela Ruse, who trained with Raducanu several consecutive days before the tournament and went out for dinner with her team, said Raducanu first appeared on their radar during the 2018 Wimbledon qualifying tournament. Romanian player alerted her to the presence of an unknown British girl with a Romanian name, so she went to watch.

Three years later, in Nottingham, Ruse and her partner, Monica Niculescu, another of Raducanu’s new Romanian friends, had missed a doubles wildcard at Wimbledon. They started to talk. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get it, so I asked Emma if she wanted to play doubles with me,” says Ruse. “She was really funny and she said to me, ‘I’m sorry Gabi, I can’t play doubles.’

“We started to be friends, he’s a nice person. I love the time with her so much. She speaks Romanian very well but she is so shy to do so.

The fact that so many older players were willing to put an arm around Raducanu is especially valuable given his inexperience on the tour. When young players achieve huge success and fame, the dressing room can be a lonely and sometimes even hostile place. In Raducanu’s case, she is now being watched by players from Great Britain, Romania and China.

Emma Raducanu serves in her first round match against Slovenian Polona Hercog at the Transylvanian Open in Cluj. Photograph: PA

“We talk to her in Romanian in the locker room and we talk about that and she understands almost everything,” said Alexandra Dulgheru, a player who conducted interviews on the pitch in Cluj during an injury layoff. “And she tries to give interviews in Romanian, which helps. [Players and fans] admire her even more and they kiss her like one of their own, treating her like a member of the family.

As Dulgheru described Raducanu as shy and modest, Transylvania Open tournament director Patrick Ciorcila expressed his satisfaction with his presence in Cluj. “I have also had the chance to chat a lot with his father over the past few days. It is very well connected with Romania, ”he says. “He loves the country and he loves the fact that she is here. He would like her to be there for the next editions.

On Tuesday, Raducanu recovered from the first round loss to Slovenia’s Polona Hercog. In her interview with Dulgheru, she cited her treatment in Cluj as a source of motivation. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to leave here,'” she said.

Toca, who also works for the Transylvania Open digital team, says his feedback was extremely well received. “It was also a great moment for the tournament because after all these shocks without crowds, they were a little sad. This is how I felt it from the inside. By the time she won, everyone found the atmosphere; the atmosphere of Cluj. Everyone was feeling good again.

On Thursday, after reaching the quarter-finals, Raducanu said his US Open trophy will be on display at the LTA National Tennis Center. It’s a thoughtful gesture, which surprised the LTA, but also a reminder of the privilege of developing as a player in a grand slam nation with the support of a wealthy federation. Even Simona Halep, a former No.1 junior, can’t relate.

Emma Raducanu in her loss to Marta Kostyuk on Friday.
Emma Raducanu in her loss to Marta Kostyuk on Friday. Photograph: Flaviu Buboi / NurPhoto / Shutterstock

Over the past decade, women’s tennis in Romania has gradually become one of the sport’s most unlikely achievements. They not only have one of the greatest players of the generation in Halep, but also a large number of successful players below her. Romania have eight players in the top 150, double that of Great Britain and behind only Russia, the United States and the Czech Republic.

Such depth seems a miracle given the negligible presence of their federation or an organized system in their careers, each of them flourishing on completely distinct paths. “It’s unexpected because there has never been any money put into it,” Toca says. “Also, a system – they don’t have, in the youngsters, coaches and all that apparatus to push you and prepare you. Everything was done individually and in the end it’s just the quality of the players they had to succeed, the talent and the chance to meet someone at [guide them]. “

Often asked to explain how it all happened, Dulgheru has come to see many factors, from competition between players to a large amount of talent in Romania. “We cultivate a lot on clay. We grow up with a lot of variation in our play. And that’s our grain; we are really fiery. We have this fighting spirit, it’s really a trend for Romania. That, along with the support of the family, makes us really, really strong on the inside, ”she says.

Dulgheru reached a career high of 26 in 2011 and his journey is a reflection of that random luck involved in the success of Romanian players. As a child, she only got the essential funding for her dream when her school teacher told her family that her classmate was the son of a manager at Nissan Romania, who sometimes sponsored talented children. They met the dad out of curiosity, he watched her play and he ended up sponsoring her career, at no cost, until she broke through the WTA.

“There are a lot of other talented players who were unable to reach a high level due to financial problems,” said Dulgheru. “There are players who are even more talented than us, but they just couldn’t. So those who are successful are the ones who have been financially fortunate as well. “

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Thank you for your opinion.

Over the past 13 years, with the rise of Halep, the presence of many top 30-50 players, and the success of Andreescu and Raducanu, women’s tennis has grown into a prominent Romanian sport. This was highlighted during the Transylvanian Open, the second WTA tournament in Cluj this year, and which only happened due to the cancellation of the Asian swing. Rather than the old ineffective Romanian tennis federation, it is the product of a private sporting events company run by Ciorcila, an ambitious 25-year-old former player.

Held at the 10,000-seat BT Arena, the clear hope ahead of the tournament was that two different shades of Romanian tennis would converge in a successful semi-final between Halep and Raducanu in front of crowded crowds. There was no crowd and Raducanu was eliminated, but perhaps an even more interesting outcome would simply be for the tournament to become a permanent fixture, with Halep, Raducanu, Andreescu and others at the future and Romanian tennis structures starting to develop according to its rise. in the field.

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