As if 2021 hadn’t already been a whirlwind for the young star, 19-year-old Emma Raducanu was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year this December. Making her way into the hearts of the British public with her impressive debut on the international circuit, Raducanu’s win symbolises achievement for the world of British Women’s Tennis both at home and abroad.
Making her Women’s Tennis Association Tour debut in June, Raducanu appeared at the highest level of Tennis only weeks after completing her A-Levels. Granted a wildcard for this year’s Wimbledon, she became the youngest British woman to reach the last 16 since the tournament began its Open era.
Regardless of having to retire from Wimbledon in the fourth round, and some setbacks at smaller competitions, many said Raducanu should start dreaming of Grand Slam success in the next few years. Yet she stunned pundits by making that dream become a reality this September, winning the US Open without dropping a single set in ten matches.
Working her way to the main competition after three qualifying stage matches, the previously unseeded player beat two top 40 players. The star went on to claim victory against 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez in straight sets of 6-4 6-3. Despite not directly playing any top ranked player, Raducanu’s victory over someone who defeated three of the top five players (including former US Open winner Naomi Osaka) was a testament to her skills and strategy.
Going from unranked to No. 1 in the UK and No.19 in the world, Raducanu’s win made tennis history. She holds the record for the least number of major tournaments played before winning a Grand Slam. She is the first US Open qualifier to win a Grand Slam, the youngest British player to win a Grand Slam and the first British woman to win a major singles title in the 21st Century. The last British female victory was Virginia Wade back in 1977.
Raducanu’s victory was a win for British tennis, for women’s sport, for a diverse future of tennis, and for the moral of the nation
She also ended the same 44-year drought in accolades for Women’s Tennis at SPOTY, with Wade also the last female player to get the award. This was also the first time a woman had won the top SPOTY award since 2006, back when Raducanu was just four.
The impact of a young mix-raced woman being so successful is something that equally can’t be ignored. In the same vein as Serena Williams encouraging the rise of talents such as Coco Gauff, Raducanu will undoubtedly go on to serve as a source of inspiration for young British women from all backgrounds to get into sport.
Receiving the award in a way apt of the past two years on the pandemic – via video link from isolation after testing positive for Covid – she thanked fans and for their support. From her room, Raducanu said: “I’m really about this, I’ve watched Sports Personality of the Year growing up and it’s an honour to be among those past winners.”
Beating Olympic and Paralympic athletes such as Tom Daley, Adam Peaty and Sarah Storey, boxer Tyson Fury and footballer Raheem Stirling, she also congratulated them on all their sporting achievements too. In a year that saw the English football team reach the finals of the Euros and the GB Olympic and Paralympic teams win 189 medals collectively, 2021 saw many sportspeople raise the nation’s spirits.
But it is the 19-year-old has captivated the British public and beyond. Her victory and the new generation of sporting icons that she represents served as inspiration in the turmoil and bleakness of the pandemic. A win for British tennis, for women’s sport, for a diverse future of tennis, and for the moral of the nation, Emma Raducanu being the Sports Personality of the Year is an impressive way to have wrapped up a spectacular year.