Andrew Richardson is the man who played a pivotal role in one of sport’s greatest stories and then disappeared.
The former British player coached Emma Raducanu to her US Open 2021 triumph, was released almost immediately afterwards and has thankfully become an elusive figure since that extraordinary achievement.
Yet here he is now on a weekday morning, putting another GB hopeful to the test on an arid plateau in the hills that rise beyond Benidorm’s pleasure dens below.
An unmarked road leads to the Ferrer Tennis Academy in La Nucia, where a small group of teenagers from around the world look to him, as their head coach, to instill in them the tools to one day emulate Raducanu.
Sitting on a picnic bench amid relatively austere surroundings, Richardson laughs modestly as he recalls a unique record in his world: a 100% success rate when it comes to winning titles while coaching a singles player at a Grand Slam.
Andrew Richardson gave his first interview since coaching Raducanu to US Open glory
Richardson revealed he was fired via a brief phone call from Raducanu’s team
That heady day in New York seems a world away now, as it will for the player who was in his care. Just eighteen months ago, Raducanu won the US Open, but the harsh reality is that she then fell out of the world top 100 and underwent three different surgeries at the age of 20.
Her choice not to continue with Richardson was a sliding door moment, which came to feel like the first in a series of missteps and mishaps that brought her to this point.
Neither he nor she can know how it would have turned out if he had been kept at a time when his world was already turned upside down.
She insisted that she was looking for someone with more touring experience. Richardson, a genial giant who doesn’t woo attention, has kept his attorney in the meantime, turning down the dozens of interview requests that still come his way.
Even now, he tries hard not to give any running commentary on his former charge, but there is a misconception that he will dispel. It’s the oft-repeated line that he was unwilling to continue working with Raducanu and instead wanted to move away and coach his eldest son, Rocco, who is aiming for a tennis career.
“The thing is, I had a nine-week trial deal that Emma and I thought was a good idea to see how we would get along, and that went on until the end of the US Open. , stopping immediately afterwards. ,’ he explains.
“There was a period of time after that where I felt like renegotiating the contract. I wanted to carry on and I had a plan that I wanted to put in place for Emma. This thing about ‘I wanted to go coach my son” isn’t true, but it seems to come up all the time.
After her fairy tale story in New York, Raducanu (center) split from Richardson (2nd right)
“After probably ten days to two weeks (after the Open), I was out of contract. We were renegotiating, then I got a quick call from his agent telling me they were going to go a different direction, and that was it.
Richardson understood that the year following his incredible breakthrough would likely be difficult, requiring adjustment to his new status and the need to put in place the technical elements inevitably missing after such a stratospheric ascent. The plan reportedly focused on creating a stable environment for his necessary physical development, but it never materialized.
The nine-week spell they had together after Wimbledon 2021 featured a tournament road trip from San Francisco to New York via outposts such as Landisville in Pennsylvania, before culminating in US Open glory. Richardson, who had worked with her during her formative years, helped her improve week after week and the results were spectacular.
He has clearly watched from a distance since, but refuses to extend their time together, believing that the honorable course is that what happens on tour stays on tour. He won’t follow another of Raducanu’s former coaches, Dmitry Tursunov, who after resigning gave a very public assessment of the player in which he spoke of ‘red flags’ which he couldn’t ignore.
“I definitely learned a lot from this whole experience,” says Richardson. “Life has changed and I’m very busy.”
He believes, however, it was “a difficult time” for him after New York, amid the publicity frenzy that accompanied a triumph that saw Raducanu nailed as Sports Personality of the Year.
These are not things he has experienced in his own playing career, in which his left-handed serve, delivered from his 6ft 7in frame, helped him make the third round of Wimbledon in singles and the top 100 in doubles.
And so he went to the ground for a while, putting his family first. Charting a path forward has been complicated by the fact that one of his sons, Rocco, 14, is seriously considering becoming a player while his other son, Rafa, doesn’t have the same interest.
Raducanu beams as she celebrates her astonishing US Open title in New York in 2021
“There were a lot of family logistics to think about, a son was changing schools and I had to find a tennis situation that worked for Rocco and I had to find a job. Putting it all together was quite complicated, and there were still Covid restrictions which made things even trickier.
“Any parent with a child who is serious about their tennis will identify with the fact that it can be a complicated business and a lot of sacrifices have to be made.”
The road was to lead to Ferrer Academy, named after its owner David, the long-time Spanish top-10 player.
Ferrer was all about hard graft and maximizing his ability, and the no-frills academy is molded in his image. Beyond our picnic bench are six clay courts, two small corrugated iron buildings that look like cargo containers, and a marquee that serves as a gym. This is not the case with La Manga, but it gives off the feeling of a place where the job is done properly, with an international school nearby catering to the educational needs of the students.
“I first came here in October 2021 because I was looking for a place where Rocco could train for a few weeks before some tournaments,” says Richardson. “We liked it and came back in March 2022, and I started helping out a bit coaching a few of the other kids. It grew from there and in July they offered me the position of head coach.
Her morning session had included Ava Williamson, 16, from Hertfordshire. “We’re not trying to compete with the biggest academies and the idea is to do a good job with a core of 11-18 year olds,” he says. “We have players who are here all year, and some come to access for shorter periods. We have players from Spain, Mexico, Russia, France, Poland, United Kingdom. He there are about 24 here at any given time.
“Since what happened with Emma, I’ve had offers to get back on tour, both WTA and ATP. The timing wasn’t right, but getting back on tour is definitely something that I want to do in the future.
“I have a situation here where my son has the best chance to pursue his tennis, he thrives and enjoys it, and we are also at the start of a project here that is exciting for me professionally.”
At the end of April, he found himself riding in Madrid, ironically, with Raducanu. As she withdrew from the big WTA tournament, he was elsewhere in town with his son, who reached the quarter-finals of an international junior event, also making the doubles final.
His time in Spain showed him why the country has been so successful in producing a large number of elite tennis players over the past 30 years, even in a country where padel is a hugely popular alternative.
“Being in that environment, it becomes obvious, and we’re not talking about a Nadal or Alcaraz because they’re so good they would happen anyway,” he says.
“The weather, the clay, the cost, the ease of playing and competing. Being able to support your child here is so much easier than in the UK. My son can play a tournament within a radius of a Alicante time pretty much every week of the year, and at a good level.
“The base of the pyramid is large. There are no barriers to the game and parents don’t care if the kids’ rankings will be good enough to get them into the next decent tournament.
“A child who isn’t exceptional here at 14 will still have opportunities to compete and continue, late developers aren’t lost and you end up with this high volume of players working their way through the system , and from there, some of them they end up being very good. If you’re not exceptional at a young age in a place like the UK, it’s a very difficult path.
Twenty months after his extraordinary two weeks in New York and its aftermath, Richardson seems genuinely content with his lot, and he’s still sticking to the basics: “I really love coaching, I’ve done it at all levels, from mini tennis to Grand Slams and for me the fun is always the same: people buy into what you teach and then the feeling that you are making a difference and improving them.
“When there’s that connection, I find it very satisfying. I think I can empathize,” says Richardson. ‘When I got the job with Emma, it was like, ‘Is this that he’s a tour-level coach?” Some coaches give themselves a title about what kind of coach they are. I work in high performance but I think you can apply the same principles to help everyone.