By Giri Nathan
If you took a random teenager who’d watched too many movies and asked them what they’d do if they ever made it big in the Big Apple, maybe they’d say something like, “Go to a fancy dress-up party with Rihanna and get rich on Wall Street.” Little did they know, they could have done all that if they simply got it together and won the US Open. Last Saturday, Emma Raducanu defeated Leylah Fernandez, 6–4, 6–3, in a thrilling and briefly bloody championship match. On Tuesday, she attended the Met Gala while decked out in Chanel, a possibility that could not have been on her mind when she entered qualifying rounds, aiming to make enough money to replace the earbuds she lost right before her first match. The next morning she visited the New York Stock Exchange, which had always been on her NYC “bucket list,” an interest deepened by her A-level studies and cultivated by parents who work in finance in London. (Raducanu, an excellent student, received something the Brits call an “A*” in maths and an A in economics.) She appeared on Good Morning America and CNBC, and she posed in front of her own face on a billboard in Times Square. A Slam is a frighteningly efficient machine for turning an anonymous teenager into an international icon.
Tennis might have the quickest such machine of any sport. Her team reportedly filed to trademark “Emma,” “Raducanu,” and “Emma Raducanu” within hours of her winning the title. She has created an account on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where she speaks Mandarin capably to millions of potential fans. There’s speculation about a Tiffany & Co. sponsorship based on the jewelry she sported at the Open. I have waded into the impressively diseased discourse that is the British media, and it is way easier to find articles to read about her potential to become a “billion dollar woman” than it is to read an appreciation of her world-class return game. “Must Emma Raducanu become a brand?” pleads a column in The Guardian, blinking at the swirl of dollar and pound signs, beseeching us to enjoy tennis as tennis. Normally I’d be as grossed out by all this as that columnist, but the truth is: Somehow, I believe all the wildly speculative financial projections floated around an 18-year-old who has yet to win a single match at a WTA Tour event, and now already has her name etched into history and the world No. 23 ranking. I am as much a believer in her backhand as I am in her ability to earn the GDP of a small island nation. This is, after all, a teen who pulled off one of the great underdog feats in recent sporting history and, barely days later, on her own free will, woke up early to check out the NYSE trading floor. That is a person with a plan!
I have considered starting a hedge fund—okay, Mom and Dad, please wait until the end of the sentence before you get too excited—built entirely on the investing theses I overhear while wandering around the US Open. The notion that tennis fans are all rich guys has always struck me as lazy caricature, completely out of sync with my experience playing on the courts in my city—except for when I’m sitting in good seats in Armstrong or Ashe, in which case I am almost certain to be within earshot of some fleece vests talking shop, learning about the performance of many a portfolio as the winners scream by us a few yards away. My question to my fleeced neighbors is this: Are you ready to watch the lady whose fund outperformed yours in the last quarter also win the women’s singles title? Because I do not think you are ready for that.
Above: Emma Raducanu swaps the hard court for the trading floor. (CNBC)