Emma Raducanu’s gran details amazing family story after dictator crushed dream

Tennis champ Emma Raducanu is fulfilling her dad’s own thwarted court dreams, her grandmother has revealed.

The 18-year-old British sensation’s stunning victory at the US Open a week ago was a world away from her father, Ian’s humble beginnings in a tower block in Bucharest, Romania.

It stands above a row of shops in a run-down district named Sector Two, where the average monthly wage is £667.

It took Emma less than three seconds to earn that in her triumph at the Arthur Ashe stadium.

And this week Emma’s beloved grandmother Niculina, who still lives on the fourth floor, told why Emma’s success will mean so much to Ian.

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Speaking in the shadow of the block which Emma visits twice a year, Emma’s gran smiled as she told us: “He would play tennis whenever he could and used to go to train.

“But there wasn’t much time for him to practice as he was too busy with school and the Communist regime did not give you too much time to pursue your hobbies.”

Indeed Ian’s progress was slowed by growing up under murderous dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was shot dead on Christmas Day 1989, 12 years before Emma was born.

Emma’s gran, who is 88 and known as Nina, went on: “I’m really proud of Emma, but also I’m really proud of my son and his wife for pulling a champion out of her.

“This is the result of all her hard work, along with her parents, who invested a lot of time in her with rigorous training.”

Nina still refers to her son as Catalin – his birth Christian name. She said: “In London, Catalin and Emma went together for tennis training and Renee [Emma’s mum] and Catalin gave Emma a good education.

“Her parents worked very hard with her and, through the help of God, Emma succeeded.”

And Ian’s childhood in the Romanian capital, which endured severe rationing and some of the lowest living standards in Europe, was a world away from the life he has since created for 18-year-old Emma.

Indeed a one-bed flat in Emma’s gran’s block still costs just £238 a month to rent.

Emma won £1.8million for her historic victory in the US Open final last Saturday night and is now being tipped to become Britain’s first billionaire sportswoman.

Nina proudly told how that Ian was a hard-worker even as a youngster. He looked after their home for her and his late dad, who worked as a technician, after they moved into the tower, which was one of 7,800 built following the country’s 1977 earthquake disaster, which killed almost 1,500 in their city.

He decided to start using his middle name Ion – later Ian – after being teased by pals, who joked Catalin sounded like a girl’s name.

Nina, a retired primary school teacher, said: “We moved into this building when it was first built. Catalin was still young. He is my only child.”

Ian graduated from Bucharest’s Faculty of Civil Engineering and later moved with Chinese-born wife Renee to Toronto in Canada, where Emma was born in 2002.

But Nina says they decided to quit the country and move to the UK to be closer to Romania.

She said: “Catalin has always been really hardworking and not only did he pursue his career, he was also a good boy, who always took care of his chores and took care of the house, which I appreciated.

“He moved to Canada first and then to the UK. Canada was so far from home, so he moved to the UK as it is in Europe and he wanted to be closer to home.”

Nina said she had not been able to watch as Emma won her trophy as the game did not start until after 11pm local time.

She said: “I couldn’t watch the final live because it was on very late and I go to bed early. I was exhausted – but I did watch the replay.”

And she found herself thanking God her granddaughter had suffered no repeat of the breathing difficulties that forced her to retire from the Wimbledon quarter final in July.

Nina was also left relieved after fearing Emma could fall ill with Covid while playing in New York, which was hit by the highly-contagious Delta variant of the virus in the days before the grand slam tournament began.

“When I heard Emma had won I felt happy, but the most important thing was she came through the match healthy. I thanked God for that.

“At Wimbledon, the air was so hot with the roof having been closed and she couldn’t breathe, so I was worried about her during this tournament.

“I have also been worrying about her because I’m very concerned about Covid.”

Nina added: “During the final Emma had this good feeling going on knowing that people were rooting for her.

“She is a very modest person, but it gave her confidence and she knew she was going to take the win. She had this sixth sense it was going to happen.

“I want to thank the UK people who helped her and also the Romanian people for supporting her.”

Nina is now hoping to celebrate Emma’s incredible victory with her in person next month, when she hopes the tennis star will be able to visit her in Bucharest before playing in the country’s Transylvania Open.

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She has not been able to see Emma in person for nearly two years due to international travel restrictions, caused by Covid.

And she is already excitedly planning to prepare the teenager’s favourite meal – the country’s national dish sarmale, which is a mix of meat, veg and rice wrapped wrapped in cabbage.

Nina said: “I will make her sarmale. I taught her how to cook it and it is her favourite.”

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