Dubai: I doubt we will be seeing a story like this again anytime soon. Nobody would have believed you if, back in 1977, you predicted that over four decades would pass before another British woman would win a major Grand Slam. That year, when Virginia Wade beat Betty Stove to win Wimbledon, spirits and confidence in Britain were both high and everyone in tennis was sure that the country would produce more champions and dominate the game. That didn’t happen.
It’s been 44 years since another British female won a major tournament but truth be told, it’s been worth the wait, such is the remarkable story of 150th ranked Emma Raducanu.
She beat Leylah Fernandez, ranked 73rd, to win the US Open but just two months earlier she was collecting her A-Level results! She only made her WTA main-draw debut in June and becomes the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in the sport’s Open era.
The new champion, who was making her US Open debut, is just 18 and her achievement is nothing short of astonishing. She had given herself no chance of getting through the qualifiers and advancing in the New York tournament and even had her flight back to the UK booked two weeks ago. 17 days later, she has lifted the trophy to complete an incredible story.
Raducanu, whose mother is Chinese and father is Romanian, did not drop a single set en route to the final and if you think it’s because she had an easy run, well, think again. She beat Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and in-form Maria Sakkari on the way. The youngster could have been overwhelmed at any moment but she approached every match with steely determination and a calmness that defied her years to blow her opponents away.
Indeed, her mental toughness has to be applauded at a time when other more high-profile players continue to struggle with the pressures and demands of the game. 24,000 fans packed inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium last night would be enough to intimidate even the most hardened pros, but Raducanu looked unfazed by it all.
To her credit, neither did Fernandez - who has also had an amazing run by beating the likes of defending champion Naomi Osaka. It was the biggest stage of both players’ careers but the Canadian had more of the support from the fans which made Raducanu’s job even harder but she dug deep once again, just as she has done throughout the tourney, and produced several devastating cross-court shots and fiery returns. She continued to attack Fernandez’s second serve and began growing in confidence and when she won the first set she celebrated by pumping her fist towards her box and yelling “come on!”
She was up for it alright and when she broke with the shot of the match – a stunning forehand pass – the teen ace knew victory was in sight. Now, other players at this moment could have buckled due to the gravity of the situation, but not Raducanu. Not even a medical time-out was going to put her off her game as she ended her scarcely believable run at Flushing Meadows with a 6-4 6-3 win over her 19-year-old opponent.
The two embraced at the net and they represent the future of women’s tennis. It’s confident, determined and in very good hands. Among the first to embrace the new British champion was an emotional Wade. There couldn’t have been a better end to this fairytale of a story.