Tennis star Emma Raducanu becomes overnight sensation in China

The half-Chinese athlete enamoured Chinese fans on social media and contributed to sky-high Chinese viewership on Weibo for the US Open’s daily live-stream shows.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

British tennis star Emma Raducanu (pictured above) ended a fairytale run at the US Open last week as she clinched the women's singles title without dropping a set throughout the tournament. The 18-year-old promptly became an overnight sensation, and one market that isn't excluded from this newfound fandom is China.

This year, the US Open became the first-ever tennis Grand Slam to produce daily live-stream shows (pictured below) across all 14 days on Weibo as well as clips on Douyin. The daily shows, which lasted an hour per episode, interacted with fans using fun and educational activations, and looked ahead to the following day's action.

Across the fortnight, the shows garnered over 40 million views, and 270k engagement and gained over 100k new followers for the US Open accounts. The show was hosted by two well-known influencers and tennis fans, who engaged and entertained millions of U.S. Open fans. The shows were hosted by Chen Junle, one of China's most popular tennis KOLs, who was joined by Li Bao, professional livestream host and sports enthusiast.

Raducanu, whose mother is Chinese, proved a highlight in these segments. Her message in Mandarin to Chinese fans, for instance, reached 11 million impressions on Weibo and hashtags surrounding her win became a trending topic. In the past, Raducanu has stated that former Chinese Grand Slam champion Li Na is her idol, as well as how important her Chinese heritage is.

"Her reach and influence [in China] is going to skyrocket, no doubt about that," says Denis Green, head of communications at digital sports agency Mailman. "Chinese fans are proud that her mother is from China and the fact that Raducanu has spoken so positively of her Chinese roots. She's also got very capable Chinese abilities, which have, as expected, gone down very well in China."

Green said that the US Open accelerated Raducanu's status, aided by the US Open's investment into a social media live show created specifically for China. And as soon as her greeting in Mandarin went viral, "everyone was talking about her". Green predicts that there will be a huge 'fandemonium' around her once she's able to compete again in China.

There are many commercial advantages for Raducanu to tap into her Chinese fanbase, especially via her recently verified Weibo account. Green said that when Li Na was at her peak, tennis became one of the most-watched sports in the country. Plus, the WTA finals is set to take place in Shenzhen next year which could prove an even-bigger launchpad for Raducanu's popularity in China.

Green added: "China has waited a long time for a new tennis idol to grow the sport and encourage the younger generations to pick up a racket. Raducanu will do just that."

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