One of the greatest ever sporting moments in British history took place last night as the 18-year-old qualifier Emma Raducanu, in only her fourth senior tournament, beat Leylah Fernandez to win the US Open, the first time a British woman has won the event since Virginia Wade in 1968.
At the start of qualifying, as Raducanu took to the court in front of little to no fans against Dutchwoman Bibianne Schoofs, the odds that she would go on to win the entire tournament would have been impossibly long. However, in one of sport’s great underdog stories, she defied all these expectations to take the trophy back to Bromley and become the first ever qualifier to win a Grand Slam in history. The fact that she did not drop a single set along the way is all the more impressive.
The game against Fernandez, in respect of the quality of the match and the ferocity with which both competitors approached it, was perhaps Raducanu’s hardest yet, but she dealt with the challenge once again, asserting her superiority over the plucky Canadian while fighting against a strongly partisan crowd.
The tone of the match was set from the first three games, which lasted 23 minutes, as hard-fought rallies were sent back and forth across the court, with both player’s movement and defensive play underlining why they deserved to be in the final.
In Fernandez’s first service game, Raducanu broke to lead 2-0, but did not capitalise on this advantage as Fernandez broke back to take the game to 2-1. It was becoming clear that Fernandez was Raducanu’s toughest opponent yet, forcing her into mistakes which Raducanu at times struggled to deal with.
Rather than letting this adversity get to her, however, Raducanu maintained her composure in front of the 24,000 at Flushing Meadows, and broke Fernandez at 5-4 to take the set with a stunning forehand.
At this point, the game was Raducanu’s to lose, but rather than letting the immense pressure get to her, she capitalised on this opening, and very soon there was no way back for Fernandez.
Although the Canadian broke early in the second set, Raducanu soon broke her opponent twice to lead 5-2 on Fernandez’s service game. It seemed at this point that Fernandez was beaten, as Raducanu had two championship points but, inspired by the crowd and with a resolute smile on her face, Fernandez managed to hold serve. However, she now needed to break Raducanu to have any chance of getting back into the match.
I’ve always dreamed of winning a Grand Slam. You just say these things. But to have the belief I did, and actually winning, I can’t believe it
– Emma Raducanu
It seemed as if this prospect was possible, or even likely, as Raducanu became increasingly nervous and frustrated, hitting a couple of shots into the net, allowing Fernandez a break point at 30-40. In the final point, however, Raducanu had grazed her knee and, much to Fernandez’s annoyance, was allowed a medical time-out to have it bandaged up.
Fernandez’s annoyance was understandable, as she was just getting into her flow, but she had little reason for frustration – once blood is visible and flowing, a medical time-out is a necessity, by the laws of tennis.
Once Raducanu returned, she had regained her composure, and, equalling the game at 40-40, she was soon facing another championship point, but this time on her own serve. Rather than hesitating, she smashed an ace beyond Fernandez, a fitting way to end such a dominant tournament, and fell to her knees, overcome by an emotion that she almost certainly would never have expected to come this early in her career.
The number of records that Emma Raducanu has broken on her way to this title are innumerable, such as the fact that she only started her senior tennis career three months ago: the only ever player to have won a tennis Grand Slam after competing in only four competitions.
The fact that only three months ago she was completing her A-levels has been constantly stated and restated, but what is arguably most impressive aspect of her achievement is the unquantifiable mindset and determination that has taken her to this victory.
At Wimbledon in the summer, she had retired in her last-16 match, as she understandably struggled to deal with the weight of the occasion. In the face of criticism from some of the internet’s buffoons, to come back from that disappointment, and show such composure and self-discipline in a climate where the pressure and adversity forced upon you from the crowd is arguably even more weighty, is unbelievable.
Most of us, in the first summer of our post-school lives, were lounging around in the sun, waiting for the arrival of our first term at university. In a pressure situation such as that Raducanu has faced, most of us would have buckled, but she stood tall, becoming a millionaire and Grand Slam tennis champion in the process.
And what is perhaps the most exciting aspect of this triumph is that this is only the beginning. Raducanu is already an elite tennis player – one of the best in the world – and we can all wait in happy anticipation for what is to come from her in the next few years.