Sports Personality of the Year: Who's on the shortlist?
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Emma Raducanu is expected to win the Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday (December 19) and will become the first female in 15 years to do so – but her focus is very much on the upcoming Australian Open, and she says she’ll relish the pressure of entering a Grand Slam as one of the favourites.
The first Slam of 2022 is less than a month away and British women’s No 1 Raducanu will head to Melbourne as the 19th seed after a stunning breakout 2021 year.
Still just 19, Raducanu became the first singles qualifier in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title at the US Open in September, beating Leylah Fernandez in the final.
That was only the second major of her career and in the first, the Toronto-born teenager reached the fourth round of Wimbledon on home soil.
Starting the tournament as world No 338, wildcard Raducanu was unfortunately forced to retire against Ajla Tomljanovic on Court 1 due to breathing difficulties.
But that did not face her whatsoever as the Briton reached the final of a WTA 125 event in Chicago and then went on to win the US Open without dropping a set in qualifying or the main draw.
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As a result of her remarkable rise, Raducanu – now world No 19 – is set to be named the Sports Personality of the Year bt the BBC although she cannot attend the glitzy gala due to testing positive for Covid while out in Abu Dhabi.
She will become the first female winner of the award since Zara Phillips in 2006 and will become just the fifth different tennis player since 1954 – after Ann Jones, Virginia Wade, Greg Rusedski and three-time SPOTY winner Sir Andy Murray – to clinch the prize.
But Raducanu is firmly focused on the upcoming Australian Open, where she says she will relish being one of the players to beat.
She declared: “Pressure is a privilege. I think I quite like it. I thrive under the adrenaline.
“For me I don’t really think about other people’s opinions or expectations. The only ones I have are the ones I have myself to improve and get better.”
Raducanu, the youngest Grand Slam champion since 2004, has been working with new coach Torben Beltz since November, the German having been the former long-time coach of Angelique Kerber who won the Australian Slam back in 2016.
She added: “Tobin is a super positive guy and he always has a lot of energy. I feel like that’s really cool to have in my team.
“I think that I’m still the same person [after a whirlwind 2021]. I feel like I’ve come a long way in terms of developing my game but there are a lot of places I feel like it can improve.
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“I’ve got good people around me and I’m just really excited.”
Fellow Briton Murray has championed Raducanu as a deserving winner of the SPOTY award as the Scot joked this week: “Every time I won it I got accused of not having a personality but she has a fantastic personality.
“She deserves to win, I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if that is the outcome.”
Raducanu herself had wanted seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, her role model, to win the award but the Mercedes driver was left off the six-man shortlist after missing out on this year’s title to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Speaking before Hamilton’s omission, Raducanu said: “He’s just been really cool and helping me. Like he said, be patient. You have just got to ride the wave. I’m rooting for Lewis. He’s been such a good role model for me in terms of helping me out and through these next stages.”
Raducanu is out in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to train in the warm weather to help prepare for the trip to Melbourne and will consequently skip Christmas celebrations at home.
She said: “I’m there to train, I’m there to get better. What’s going to be best for me is staying in the Middle East rather than flying seven hours back and forth. So I feel like it’s not a sacrifice and hopefully my mum or dad can come out.”
Raducanu’s first scheduled event of 2022 is the Sydney Tennis Classic from January 9 to January 15, where world No 1 and Wimbledon winner Ashleigh Barty will also be present in a strong field.
The Australian Open then gets underway on January 17 with American icon Serena Williams, the most successful female player in the Open Era at the tournament Down Under with seven successes, absent due to injury.
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