Emma Raducanu appointing Russian coach will only add to scrutiny on her | Tumaini Carayol

For much of the past few months, as Emma Raducanu travelled the world without a permanent coach and assured all who asked that she could succeed while in full control of her destiny, her decisions were the subject of intense, constant attention. She may have now addressed those concerns, but there will be no end to the inspection of her choices.

This week Raducanu enlisted the coaching talents of the former top-20 ATP player Dmitry Tursunov on a trial period before the North American hard court swing and her US Open title defence. The hiring of Tursunov has led to significant criticism of her decision to work alongside a Russian as the invasion of Ukraine continues.

It is another instance of the extreme scrutiny that has surrounded Raducanu’s every move since her US Open victory. If she is to stand a chance of following up her breakthrough and sustaining a successful career, she will need to block it all out.

Raducanu counts politicians among those monitoring her. Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, told the Telegraph: “The Kremlin will portray this as a PR coup and an indication that the UK doesn’t really care about the war in Ukraine, so it’ll be a real shame if Emma goes ahead with this.”

Three weeks ago, despite Wimbledon’s efforts to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at their event, a decision that has led to significant fines from the WTA and legal appeals in response, the tournament ended with a Russian-born player who resides in Moscow winning the women’s singles title.

Dmitry Tursunov
Dmitry Tursunov has been successful coaching Aryna Sabalenka and Anett Kontaveit. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Even though Elena Rybakina’s success while representing Kazakhstan is a damning indictment of the Russian tennis system that failed her, Wimbledon found itself at the mercy of the Russian propaganda it had strived to avoid. “Well done Rybakina. We have won the Wimbledon tournament,” said Shamil Tarpischev, the disgraced president of the Russian Tennis Federation.

It should have been a lesson for all. There are few things that Russia’s propaganda cannot twist to suit its narrative. In this case, a private citizen hiring the private services of an independent contractor who is Russian, with the simple hopes of improving her career, should not be grounds for such outrage or controversy.

What is clear is that Raducanu has endured a brutal first full season on the WTA tour, with a series of injuries including a side strain that scuppered most of her grass-court season. She has won nine and lost 12 matches this year, and now faces the pressure and difficulty of a grand slam defence.

As she heads to the US, Raducanu has chosen a coach with a proven record for a trial. Tursunov has enjoyed notable success in his short time coaching. In his first high-profile pairing, with Aryna Sabalenka in 2018, he guided the Belarusian from a world ranking of 45th to ninth before they split at the end of the following year.

Last season Tursunov pulled off an even more impressive feat with Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, taking her from 29th to a career high of second at the time of their split after the French Open last month. Their partnership began with a startling run of 28 wins and two defeats at the end of last year, including four titles.

The reason for their split should be of far more interest to Raducanu: Tursunov was frequently unable to travel with Kontaveit during their final months together due to visa issues.

As a player, Tursunov was popular and known for speaking openly in interviews. Last November he gave his own blunt take on Raducanu’s coaching situation. “If someone from her team called me now and asked if I wanted to train her, I would tremble with fear because you don’t know when you will be fired,” he said. In the end, he took the call.

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