Yesterday, record-breaking tennis star Emma Raducanu retired from the Wimbledon tournament after suffering a medical issue during her match against Ajla Tomljanovic. Doubling over after one particularly long set, the 18-year-old was seen holding her stomach and having difficulty breathing before she was escorted off the pitch.
Now, search for what happened to Emma Radacanu has gone through the roof. According to Google Trends, ‘Emma Raducanu panic attack’, ‘What is wrong with Emma Raducanu’ and ‘Why did Emma Raducanu retire’ are all major breakout search terms today. They’re just three of 25 different search terms, too, all of which are variations of questions about Emma’s health and whether she is okay now.
Emma is yet to give a statement on her current health, but from the speculation alone about it – it’s clear she was under a ton of pressure. That seems to be what everyone is debating today, whether or not her retirement is mental health related due to the stress she was under. It started when BBC commentator John McEnroe said she found the competition ‘a little bit too much’, comparing her to Naomi Osaka who withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon this year due to depression and anxiety.
‘How much can players handle?’ he asked. ‘It makes you look at the guys that have been around and the girls for so long – how well they can handle it. Hopefully she’ll learn from this experience.’
Naturally, he has been criticised for first of all presuming that Emma is dealing with mental illness without any confirmation, but also the implication that if she is, she’s somehow weaker than those that came before her. While his comments are misguided, it doesn’t appear as if he has anything other than sympathy for the tennis star – especially given her age. Piers Morgan, on the other hand, has jumped to defend McEnroe in the most un-asked-for, vile fashion.
‘McEnroe told the truth,’ he tweeted. ‘Ms Raducuna’s a talented player but couldn’t handle the pressure [and] quit when she was losing badly. Not “brave”, just a shame. If I were her, I’d tell my fans to stop abusing McEnroe, [and] seek his advice on how to toughen up [and] become a champion like he was.’
Yes, it is wildly ironic that a man who stormed off set after being confronted over his obsession with Meghan Markle is now giving an 18-year-old professional athlete advice on ‘toughening up’.
But beyond that, his comments are just wildly misinformed and show a total lack of empathy. If Emma is dealing with panic attacks or anxiety, then losing has nothing to do with the medical need to stop playing. Anyone with anxiety knows you could be having a great day and still suffer horrendously or find yourself (clinically) triggered by something random. While it’s fair to say that an athlete would have to learn to manage any mental illness they suffer from in order to continue playing professionally – as most of us do just to get through the day – his use of phrases like ‘toughen up’ are beyond harmful. Having anxiety, or dealing with panic attacks, does not make you weak – and it certainly DOES make you brave for competing in an environment like Wimbledon despite them.
The last thing Emma needs right now is unsolicited advice from men determined to misunderstand her.
The thing is, Emma has handled the pressure incredibly well. She’s bright and sharp in all of her on-court interviews, taking making history in her stride. If she has suffered from an anxiety or panic attack, it may well be that she’s never experienced something like that before. After all, she’s only 18-years-old, thrown into the biggest competition in her sport as a wildcard, without any expectation of ever making it this far. It’s also the first time she’s been the talk of the nation.
What she needs then, at a time like this, is empathy. She doesn’t need unsolicited advice from a man determined to misunderstand mental illness, she doesn’t need people purposefully twisting why she quit with no actual confirmation of her current medical condition. Whether she had a panic attack or not, all Emma needs right now is the national support she was shown right up until she retired.
If the Google searches aren’t enough to prove how much pressure she was under, the fact her retirement has elicited these kind of responses from some of the loudest voices in our media – who truly have the ability to turn the public mood for or against you - says everything.
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