Emma Raducanu’s inner circle: meet the squad who’ve supported the tennis star along the way

·12-min read
 (ES composite)
(ES composite)

The team she ran to hug in her player’s box after the match. The super-squad of coaches, physios and nutritionists she thanks on her Instagram. The childhood friend she posed with under a billboard in New York.

Emma Raducanu’s parents might not have made it to America to watch her US Open victory in-person, but Britain’s new golden girl certainly wasn’t short on supporters to celebrate and eat chocolate with. Several of her closest inner circle travelled to the Big Apple to watch her play and one of her oldest friends was there to accompany her on her big tour of Manhattan afterwards - pictures of the teenagers posing together under a Nike billboard made their way around the world this week as fans jumped to work out who the mystery tennis player was on the 18-year-old’s arm.

The strapping brunette has since been revealed as former British tennis protégé Benjamin Heynold, 19, who was already out in New York for his studies and has known Raducanu since they were young.

He’s not the only one who’s been by the new British number one’s side throughout her rise to global stardom: her coach, Andrew Richardson, has known her since she was 10 and is reportedly supporting her closely as she adapts to her newfound fame, as are her super-squad of nutritionists, physiotherapists and PR agents, whose phones will no doubt be ringing off the hook since Raducanu shot to super-stardom across the pond this week.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

So who are the key members of the teenager’s inner circle and how will they all play a role in her mega-brand going forward? From the agency guru who made Sharapova shine to the parents who’ve instilled a hard work ethic since the start, meet Team Raducanu.

The BFF who’s been her rock since childhood

Benjamin Heynold

 (Ben Heynold  -  Facebook)
(Ben Heynold - Facebook)

You’ll have seen the photos by now: a beaming Raducanu posing under a billboard in New York with a handbag on one arm and a mystery male pal on the other.

That friend has since been revealed as Benjamin Heynold, 19, an ex-tennis protégé Raducanu has known since they were six - according to reports, the strapping former player has been her “rock” ever since they grew up and went on to represent Team GB together.

The now-famous billboard picture was posted by Heynold on his private Instagram account, on which he has 1,800 followers and reportedly captioned ‘History’.

Raducanu didn’t post that particular image on her own grid but Heynold has made several appearances on her account over the years, from posing together with their medals as baby-faced tennis players at the European Championships to shots of them with friends at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

Little is known about how much the pair have kept in touch but Raducanu’s appearance in New York no doubt made the perfect excuse for a former teammate reunion: according to MailOnline, Heynold is currently studying in New York so presumably offered to be her post-win tour guide.

The “gentle giant” coach who had Tim Henman as his best man

Andrew Richardson

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

All eyes were on Raducanu’s box at the weekend after she lept off-court to give them all a hug. Front and centre (and towering above the others at 6ft 7in tall) was her coach Andrew Richardson, a softly-spoken former Davis Cup player affectionately described among tennis circles as a “gentle giant”.

Now 47, the ex-pro once reached the third round of Wimbledon and formed a long-standing friendship with former British number one Tim Henman (Henman was best man at his wedding to Lucy Heald in 1999). But it is Henman’s protégé, Raducanu, for whom Richardson will probably now become even more famously linked to.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Peterborough-based left-handed player has coached a series of top British players including Ross Hutchins and Alan Mackin, and first started coaching Raducanu when she was just 11 and playing at Bromley Tennis Centre. They went their separate ways but reunited recently after it was believed Richardson would help make the teen feel at ease during her first long stint away from home in the US.

Whether he’ll join Raducanu on her next chapter of the tour - likely to be the Indian Wells Open next month - is currently unknown, as their agreement in July only covered the period until the end of the US Open - though his calming influence could be a helping hand as the 18-year-old enters the next phase of her newfound fame. Richardson is believed to have played a key role in helping to keep Raducanu focused and composed amid the pressure of the US Open and is keen to make sure she remains protected as her fame continues.

The wonder physio who makes her laugh

Will Herbert

Petrol-head Raducanu likes to call Will Herbert her “mechanic”: the physio and strength and conditioning coach travelled with the 18-year-old on her recent stint in the US and was among the super-squad cheering her on from the box during Saturday’s final.

The Loughborough University graduate played tennis as a junior but failed to make it as a professional and now works as a physio with a number of British athletes including world number four Alexander Zverev and Britain’s Kyle Edmund.

Associates describe Herbert, 43, as “funny and good to be around” and he and Raducanu clearly have a laugh when they’re together. A photo of them giggling as he presses his elbow into her hip has been liked more than 79,000 times.

Herbert’s own Instagram has more than 2,800 followers. “What. Just. Happened?!” he captioned a photo of him and Raducanu hugging after her win. “@emmaraducanu you are ridiculous. So impressed by you and really love how great you make us all look.”

The feminist mentor who wants to inspire other girls

Iain Bates

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Iain Bates had to change his flight multiple times as Raducanu kept winning but he was “delighted to do so”. The former player and the LTA’s head of women’s tennis was one of several supporters in the teenager’s box on Saturday night and says he aimed to be a “reassuring presence”.

“It’s been a complete whirlwind really,” he told the i on Tuesday night. “I don’t think anybody realistically would have expected her to win it. When she beat Bencic in the quarter-final at that point you think ‘OK this is getting really serious now’ and somebody’s going to have to play very, very well to beat her and nobody was able to.”

Bates, who’s previously worked closely with Judy Murray, says Raducanu and the team enjoyed a sushi dinner following her win and laughed into the early hours. He hopes her win will incentivise more young girls at a grassroots level.

 (BBC)
(BBC)

“We have seen how engaging Emma is,” he said. “She transcends the immediate tennis audience and that’s so important. it’s easy to connect with her and she can incentivise more people to give tennis a go.”

He added that he was most impressed by the teenager’s mentality. “Her composure in dealing with everything she was faced with and secondly how she was just almost learning on the job. How calm she stayed in the moment embracing everything that was in front of her.

“I think everybody can see how good her tennis is, but to cope with those other elements as a young woman playing her first overseas (Grand) Slam stood out a mile.”

The nutritionist who taught Raducanu her “lucky rituals”

Kate Shilland

That video of Raducanu puffing her way through an assault bike workout post-Wimbledon? That’s thanks to Kate Shilland, a sports and performance nutritionist with Pureform Clinic in south London who spent months working with the teenager ahead of her US Open victory.

Shilland’s Instagram is littered with health suggestions from Nutella substitutes to protein suggestions for young athletes and clearly, her so-called “lucky rituals” with Raducanu worked. “What an absolute pleasure to work with you all supporting this truly incredible human being,” the health and CBT expert captioned an Instagram video of Raducanu’s victory speech after her win.

“Teamwork (and self belief) definitely helps the dream work. And what a sensational dream that just came true. Believe in you. Emma, you totally rock. Thank you for the magic,” she wrote, adding: “If only you could see our lucky rituals back home.” Could Shilland be the inspiration behind the teenager’s frozen yoghurt habit?

The hero hitting partner who loves a selfie

Matthew James

LTA coach Matthew James might not have been in Raducanu’s New York supporters’ box but he’s made regular appearances on her grid over the years. The Cardiff Met alumni used to work as her coach and now works across men’s and women’s tennis more generally at the LTA - he was a coach for team GB at the Tokyo Olympics.

Followers of Raducanu will recognise James from numerous Instagram posts from tournaments and training sessions over the years and his own grid is littered with memories from their coaching time together, from practising forehands in the rain to selfies in Tel Aviv.

“Not your average squad session,” James wrote in 2019 alongside a photo of him and Raducanu at the All England Club with Sir Andy Murray. “Second title together,” he captioned another, showing Raducanu holding a trophy and flowers as she broke into the top 400 WTA rankings in 2019.

If his pride back then is anything to go by, James is probably feeling pretty pleased with his former pupil’s latest success.

The secret mentor who lost his voice from cheering

Tim Henman

 (Amazon Prime)
(Amazon Prime)

We all saw the looks they exchanged during Saturday’s final. It’s no coincidence: according to reports, tennis veteran Tim Henman, 47, wasn’t just Raducanu’s biggest fan in New York but also a secret mentor.

“It means so much to have Virginia here and also Tim,” she said in New York. “Just to have such British legends and icons for me to follow in their footsteps, it definitely helps and gave me the belief that I could actually do it.”

 (Getty Images for LTA)
(Getty Images for LTA)

Henman has called the teenager “outstanding” and memorably almost lost his voice from cheering her on so loudly in the final. Meanwhile, Raducanu has called the former US Open semi-finalist an inspiration.

Speaking after her semi-final victory, she said: “Tim is honestly such a big inspiration. He has been helping me to treat one point at a time. You can’t get ahead of yourself.”

The mother who inspired belief

Renee Raducanu

 (PA)
(PA)

That drive and discipline Raducanu has been praised for? Apparently it’s down to her mother, Renee, and her Chinese family, who helped her to remain grounded while her fame grew.

“I think the confidence comes from just inner belief,” she told Vogue recently. “My mum comes from a Chinese background, they have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture.”

Both Renee and her husband work in finance - no doubt the basis of their daughter’s hard-working, perfectionist approach to her tennis. “They have been pushy to an extent,” the teenager has said of her parents. “Not just in tennis but in everything. I think that I’ve developed that mentality since a young age.”

The softly-spoken father who’s tough to please

Ian Raducanu

 (Rob Todd)
(Rob Todd)

If it’s her mother who inspired her confidence, it’s Raducanu’s Romanian-born father, Ian, who instilled her hard work ethic. Insiders say he’s known for his no-nonsense approach and has a history of hiring and firing her coaches over the years - rumour has it he wanted his daughter to have a different coach for each shot, as a golfer might.

“He is happy to think outside the box,” former British number one Mark Petchey told The Telegraph of Raducanu’s father Ian, who’s been described as approachable and softly-spoken. “As a coach, he challenges you-his view is the coach does not necessarily know everything. I thought he had a good handle on what the particular needs of his daughter were.”

The teen and her father reportedly hit tennis balls together in the street during lockdown and though he and his wife weren’t able to attend the US Open due to visa issues, knowing they were watching still gave her an extra push.

“My dad said to me ‘you’re even better than your dad thought’ so that was reassuring,” Raducanu revealed after her win. “My dad’s definitely very tough to please but I managed to today.”

The super-agents who made Sharapova shine

Chris Helliar and Max Eisenbud

It’s a daunting prospect, on the face of it, being tasked with turning your client into a $1 billion brand. But Chris Helliar and Max Eisenbud may well have an easier job than most when it comes to building Raduncanu’s super-status.

Helliar is a former ATP pro who retired from tennis in 2015 and worked as a coach for a while before moving into marketing and advertising. He became a talent agent at entertainment giant IMG in April this year - and what a time to start. Alongside representing superstars including Naomi Osaka ad Serena Williams, he and fellow agent Max Eisenbud are responsible for sharing Raducanu’s agency duties.

Helliar was one of the cheering figures in the teenager’s box on Saturday night and Eisenbud, vice-president of tennis at IMG, certainly knows a thing or two about building young players’ brands. He’s best known for working with another teenage sensation, Maria Sharapova, who he helped make £234 million in partnerships over the course of her 17-year career.

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