Last year, when she was 18 and a virtual unknown, England's Emma Raducanu stunned the tennis world by winning the U.S. Open. Since then, her rise to fame has been meteoric … and expectations for her, publicly and professionally, rose accordingly.
In her episode of "What Are You Working On?", a web series where Nike gets personal with creative people and athletes, Raducanu returns to the London court where she first learned to play tennis. She reflects freestyle on her rise to fame, her perfectionism as a child, who she feels most at home with, and her love of motocross.
The longform episode was conceived and produced by Soursop, alongside executive creative director Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock and rising Gen Z directors Pip & Lib, best known for their "Unfiltered" series with Jonah Hill.
Functionally, this work feels different from typical Nike fare. The brand generally likes to focus on the blood, sweat and tears of training, galvanizing people around the cult of athletic achievement. Instead, Raducanu's docu-style piece feels closer to L'Oréal's "Lessons of Worth" series, where stars reflect frankly on their human value.
Raducanu has become a star. Here, we're actively pulled away from press images of her performing in big-banner competitions. You're in London with her without an entourage, walking through old haunts, and in the car while she's stuck in traffic. ("I hate traffic," she confides.) The athlete is lifted from her pedestal and placed on earth at eye level. She's someone who still misses the hopper more often than not.
"One thing I need to get better at is switching off more and actually learning that you need to leave the club," Raducanu says. "When you spend the whole day there, over and over again, it is pretty draining." This is a small thing to say, but again, it's a narrative deviation from what Nike's usually trying to sell. Self-care is the focus here, and regrounding after the screams of crowds have subsided.
The work comes in a moment where many people are presumably focused on their own mental health and performance expectations as we navigate relaxed Covid restrictions, even as a contagious new illness begins circulating the planet. It also follows a long soul-searching period for professional tennis, following Naomi Osaka's public grapple with her own mental health, and Serena Williams' difficulties meeting outsize expectations after giving birth.
Nike has often been an instigator of these issues, and changed some of its policies around maternity and guaranteed pay as a result (which you can see in the link above). We'd also like to hope that work like this marks a turning point for how the brand approaches performance generally, not only in marketing but in its treatment of athletes—less as market commodities-cum-gladiators, and more like people for whom rest, care and well-rounded time allocation are considered part of the responsible management of a long-term athletic career.
When last we saw Raducanu in advertising, she was giving Dua Lipa tennis lessons for Evian.
Creative Agency: Soursop
Production Company: Untold Studios
Director: Pip & Lib
Photographer: Laura Allard Fleischl