Eighteen-year-old Emma Raducanu shattered records over the weekend when she beat Leylah Fernandez to claim the US Open women’s singles title, the first qualifier ever to do so. She’s the first British woman to claim a Grand Slam title in more than 40 years, and the youngest winner since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004.
The recent high school graduate will collect $2.5 million for her US Open win, more than eight times the $303,000 she had earned in her career before competing this weekend.
Raducanu’s overnight success is likely to attract lucrative deals from major sportswear brands, marketing experts say. Simon Chadwick, a global professor of sport at Emlyon Business School in Lyon, France, told Quartz that Raducanu’s multinational identity—her mother is Chinese, while her father is from Romania—could also “make her globally marketable, particularly in China, where Western brands sometimes struggle.”
But a glass ceiling still exists for female athletes when it comes to earning potential, and young tennis players like Raducanu face immense pressures to maintain endorsements through the ups and downs of their careers.
Tennis players Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams are among the highest paid athletes in the world, according to Forbes’ most recent rankings, but their earnings still fall below tennis great Roger Federer, as well as a number of other basketball, soccer, and football players.
This is true of Osaka, who secured major contracts with brands including Nike and Mastercard after beating Williams in the 2018 US Open. She is now the highest-paid female athlete in the world, but No. 12 on the list overall.
“We have to remember that many of the male players who are topping the earnings lists are doing so on the back of long-term endorsements that they have gained through years of being at the top of their sport,” Leah Gillooly, a professor of marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, told Quartz.
Raducanu could serve as an “acid test athlete”—that is, “one who challenges all of those who talk about equality to actually deliver on their fine words”—if she can sustain her playing success, Chadwick said. Even then, shattering the glass ceiling could will still be an uphill battle.
“Many of the world’s top players have taken years to reach this level,” Chadwick noted.
Osaka, who has been open about her mental health struggles and announced she may take an indefinite break from tennis after losing to Fernandez at this year’s US Open, should serve as a “barometer and benchmark” for Raducanu, Chadwick said. While Osaka followed through on her “initial playing and commercial promise,” her recent struggles have led some to some speculation that sponsors are looking to be recompensed, he added.
If Osaka’s case provides any indication of the challenges that lie ahead, Raducanu’s advisers will have to be careful about what advice they give the young phenom as she navigates endorsements, experts told Quartz.
“If I were advising her, I would recommend having that long-term perspective and being selective in the deals she takes on so that they work for her and still allow her to remain true to her values and to focus on her tennis,” said Gillooly.