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The meteoric rise of a unicorn

Nicole Pereira/New York Stock Exchange via AP

By winning the US Open, Emma Raducanu pulled off “the most gloriously unlikely story ever told in British sport”, says Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph. Unlike the years of disappointment before Andy Murray’s first grand slam victory (on the same court in 2012), the 18-year-old’s coronation was “blissfully untroubled”. Throughout the tournament and in her gracious victory speech, the teenager from Bromley combined “the cold-bloodedness of a major champion with the diplomatic instincts of a veteran politician”.

“Get ready for Emma Raducanu Inc,” says Therese Raphael in Bloomberg. Her Romanian-Chinese background, her meteoric rise, her winning personality all suggest she’s a “unicorn” – sports figures so rare that, like Tiger Woods in golf, they don’t merely dominate a sport, “they alter the landscape around them”. Even though she is only ranked No 23 (up from 150 three weeks ago), already “it’s hard to imagine the women’s tour without Raducanu”. But she must beware – like any tech unicorn, as she increases “market share” through grand slam wins, she must also “control expenditure” by choosing what she dedicates herself to off-court.

The money men are already circling to turn her “childlike enthusiasm into a bankable commodity”, says Matthew Syed in The Times. It was wonderful seeing her wowing US TV audiences, upstaging everyone at the Met Gala in a Chanel ensemble and giggling at the sight of her own Nike billboard. She’s already sponsored by Nike and Wilson, Tiffany is said to be in discussions and there’s fevered talk about her earning £100m. But she must not do what golfer Rory McIlroy did when he snatched “the vast carrot dangled” by Nike and made a £100m deal with them. He instantly became a corporate man and “never reached his elevated potential”. With good people around her, Raducanu might retain her “motivational purity” to play tennis for the sheer fun of it. If she does, “the money will flow even faster”.

Football’s sleeping pill problem

Mike Phenix, 32, can’t remember chunks of his career. Paul Greenwood/Shutterstock

Sleeping pills are a “disease spreading quietly” in football, reports Simon Hughes in The Athletic. The sport just isn’t set up so that players can be sure they’ll get a good kip. The hours are unsociable, since the number of evening fixtures is up 30% compared to 10 years ago, and the adrenaline coursing through your body after playing a 90-minute game in front of a roaring crowd is hard to exhaust. Pre- and in-game caffeine boosters, like high-energy sports drinks, are now rife. And social media makes players more anxious than ever. Once back in their dressing rooms, players “reach for their phone to see how their performance has been critiqued” even before they’ve spoken to teammates. Insomnia is rife.

This means that players “across every level” are turning to drugs such as lorazepam, temazepam and diazepam – highly addictive, prescription-based medication. Advice from club doctors, who are generally against sleeping pills, is ignored, and at least one elite footballer at a top Premier League club has been excluded from fixtures because of his dependency.

Mike Phenix, a 32-year-old former Barnsley player, says he can’t remember whole chunks of his career thanks to sleeping pills. He was “away with the fairies”, not waking up until midday and even missed the team coach for one match. “Addiction breeds addiction.” Eventually, at 29, he ended up being banned for four years for steroid use. Rugby waged a “quiet war” on the painkillers many players were taking. Now football needs to wake up to its own crisis, and soon.