Note: This interview was originally published on 25 August, 2021. Since then, Raducanu has gone on to win the US Open as a qualifier on her tournament debut.
Touching down in the Bay Area earlier this month, Emma Raducanu wasn't just excited about competing in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic tournament, but also the chance to indulge in some structural engineering nerdery.
"Strauss' 1930s genius ... pretty fascinating seeing for real after studying it in y8 d&t [Design & Technology]," she posted on Instagram from the Golden Gate Bridge.
"When I was in Year 8, we were learning about the shapes and the strength and all the dynamics of it," Raducanu says via Zoom from Chicago.
Her interest in the subject was instilled by her father, who holds a masters degree in structural engineering. "It's just different in real life. You can really see and take in how spectacular it is."
In July, a breakthrough run to the fourth round at Wimbledon had catapulted Raducanu, 18, into the spotlight. This month, she has dropped out of it to quietly continue her rise, building some dynamic results of her own in the U.S.
After San Jose, Raducanu came through qualifying at the Landisville ITF W100 event to reach the quarterfinals, with wins over former World No.21 Mona Barthel and No.6 seed Ysaline Bonaventure. The following week at the WTA 125 in Chicago, she rode a first-round upset of top seed Alison Van Uytvanck all the way to her biggest career final, losing a three-set thriller to fellow 18-year-old prospect Clara Tauson.
Consequently, the Briton will make her US Open qualifying debut this week perched at a new career high of World No.150, up nearly 200 spots from her 2020 year-end finish of No.343. She will open in Flushing Meadows against Bibiane Schoofs, with a final qualifying round against Egypt's trailblazing Mayar Sherif potentially looming.
"At this level, every single player is great and the margins between winning and losing are so small," Raducanu says on going from Centre Court at Wimbledon to Court 5 in Landisville. "You have to be on your game against every single opponent. And I think just focusing on the match in front of me is the biggest thing that I've been able to do over the last few weeks."
Not that Raducanu shies away from a match with a bit of extra frisson.
"When I saw the Chicago draw [against Van Uytvanck], I was secretly loving it, because I love a challenge," she says. "I practiced with Alison on the grass and she's got a huge game. I knew it was going to be a very difficult match, but I like being the underdog. You feel like you've got nothing to lose."
In Landisville, there was another twist. Raducanu has spent the past year studying for her A-levels, the final school year exams in England that were as derailed as professional sport. Instead of a year in a classroom, Raducanu had to navigate virtual teaching - particularly challenging in maths, she says, which "is tough to do on a computer when you can't show the teacher the problem in front of you" - and an uncertain system after national exams were cancelled by the government, replaced by teacher-assessed grades.
In the event, her school chose to assess pupils based on exams anyway, and Raducanu received her results just before her second-round match in Landisville against Ekaterine Gorgodze.
"I didn't want to open them before the match," she says. "I was saving them."
She won the match 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 and came off court to find that she had received an A* grade in maths - the highest possible - and an A in economics. "I was quite pleased with that," she says.
One of the reasons Raducanu's Wimbledon breakthrough seemed so sudden is because, though she had been a talented junior on insiders' radar, she had essentially been on hiatus for 16 months. She did not compete between February 2020 and June 2021 because of a combination of focusing on her education and the global pandemic. To put this into context, Raducanu's absence from competition lasted only five months less than World No.1 Ashleigh Barty's two-year retirement between 2014 and 2016.
Unlike Barty's break, Raducanu's was unplanned. Like Barty, though, she found that taking time out only benefited her in the end - even when she had to watch junior peers such as Tauson and Leylah Fernandez forge their way into the Top 100.
"In the end, it just made me realise how much I wanted to be out there and how much I missed the game and the competition," she says. "So then, given the opportunity to compete, I'm just trying to take every single one and use it. I think, look where you were three months ago. You were either sat in an exam hall or at home. So just play every match like it could be one of your last."
Now, Raducanu is out there and on the road in earnest. Her Spotify playlist is expanding as she goes - the voracious music fan is always keen to note the songs that soundtrack her Instagram videos, with recent artists ranging from Atlanta rapper Gunna to Taiwanese trap producer Gill Chang and the UK afropop of Chunkz.
"My playlist is so diverse," she says, laughing. "Honestly, I couldn't even tell you the names of half of the songs I listen to because I just go on Spotify and press shuffle. I love the way that you find a lot of smaller artists who are yet to be discovered but who have really great stuff. I just listen to that and save it, even if I don't know their names.
"I like a lot of different genres. Everything has a place and a time. I like energetic stuff before a match - like pop, something that has a great beat to it to get me in the groove. I find that rap makes me a bit sleepy, so I don't really listen to it before a match - but maybe if I have a strength session and I'm pumping some weights. Then when I relax, I like chill house music. And I also appreciate some Smooth Radio, because my parents always have it on in the car and I actually quite like it!"
Raducanu is one of life's enthusiasts, hungry to take in everything the world has to offer. "I have so many things on my bucket list," she says. The first of those is to see the Bean, the metal Anish Kapoor sculpture - and another feat of structural engineering - that sits in Chicago's Millennium Park.
"I can't believe I'm in Chicago and I haven't seen it yet," she says. "I'll make time for it before I leave."
Raducanu is true to her word. The day after this interview, she posts an Instagram from the Bean. The sculpture's curved steel surface offers passers-by a multiplicity of reflections, stretched into different shapes. Its official name, the Cloud Gate, suggests possibility and potential. As Raducanu heads to New York for her second major of the year, it feels appropriate.