Talk of the Town Emma Raducanu
By: Joey Hanf
New York City. It’s a place unlike anywhere in the world. Once a year, the tennis tour comes to town for the U.S. Open, the season’s fourth and final major. Many players crumble under the bright lights, overwhelming crowds, and endless nights. Some rise to the occasion, embracing the unique atmosphere and playing the best tennis of their career. Then there’s Emma Raducanu, who accomplished something the tennis world had never seen before.
Heading into the U.S. Open, Raducanu, an 18-year-old British player with Romanian and Chinese roots, had won only seven tour level matches in her brief professional career. Even as a junior, Raducanu was never considered to be one of the best young players in the world. Her first real breakout came at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships, where she was awarded a wild card. After winning three rounds, Raducanu was put on centre court in front of a raucous home crowd in the Round of 16. She took an early lead on Ajla Tomljanovic, before eventually having to retire in the second set due to difficulty breathing.
“I was playing the best tennis of my life in front of an amazing crowd this week and I think the whole experience caught up with me,” Raducanu said on Instagram after the match. “At the end of the first set, after some super intense rallies, I started to breathe heavily and felt dizzy. The medical team advised me not to continue and, although it felt like the hardest thing in the world not to be able to finish my Wimbledon on the court, I was not well enough to carry on”.
The British crowd and media were a bit harsh after the match, with many saying that Emma couldn’t handle the moment. All of this is what makes her run in New York all the more impressive. Oftentimes after making a splash at a young age, players struggle mightily to back those results up, sometimes never getting back to that level in their career. For Raducanu, it would only be a couple months.
Heading into the U.S. Open ranked 150 in the world, Raducanu had to play qualifying just to reach the main draw, and she had actually, never won a qualifying match at any major in her career up to that point. But she took care of business, winning all three matches in straight sets. Into the main draw, Raducanu had a fortunate draw, not having to face any player inside the world’s top 40 through her first four matches. Still, she went through these matches with ruthless efficiency, dropping zero sets and a grand total of just 15 games in the process.
Raducanu’s first big test with the national media now looking down upon her came in the quarterfinals against Belinda Bencic, who just a few years ago was a young star with mountains of expectations put upon her. Bencic, ranked 12 in the world, was the heavy favorite. After only 82 minutes on court, Raducanu had once again powered her way past an opponent with far more experience. It was a similar story in the semi-finals, where she faced Maria Sakkari, a now top 10 player who had been surging all season. This one only took 84 minutes, and Raducanu booked her spot in the final in even more convincing style, dropping just five games.
Had the run ended right there, the story would be big enough. An 18-year-old who was still in school, three months ago the majority of tennis fans in her home country had never even heard of her...reaching a major final was unthinkable. What made the moment even more intriguing was her opponent in the final, fellow breakout star Leylah Fernandez. Just 19 years old herself, Fernandez’s New York run was much tougher; she had earned wins over Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, and Elina Svitolina amongst others.
The question was fairly simple: which young star could handle the pressure better than the other? Truthfully, both handled the moment quite well, and the level of play in the final was top notch. But it was Raducanu who continued to show fearless conviction in every shot she hit, from booming serves to flat, penetrating groundstrokes. She won the title 6-3 6-4, capping off a run of 10 matches in three weeks, without dropping a single set.
The win brought huge attention to Raducanu, especially in the U.K, where she was the first major female champion since Virginia Wade in 1977. It’s still to be seen how Emma will back up such a huge accomplishment this early in her career, but it’s clear that she has unlimited potential in front of her. She has responded to adversity before, and with so much in front of her, only time will tell how big of a mark Raducanu will eventually make on the sport of tennis.