NEW YORK – British teenager Emma Raducanu arrived here last month with a ranking of 150, just one Grand Slam appearance in her name and a flight booked to leave town after the US Open preliminary rounds just in case she wouldn’t be able to find her way. the main tournament.
And she was there at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday, holding a trophy to complete an unlikely – indeed, unprecedented – but surprisingly dominant run from qualifying to major champion by beating Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 finally .
“You say, ‘I want to win a Grand Slam.’ But to have the conviction that I had and that I actually performed, winning a Grand Slam, “Raducanu said:” I can’t believe it. “
Who could? It is all so improbable.
Until three months ago, she had never performed in a professional tour-level event, in part because she had taken 18 months for a combination of reasons: the pandemic and her parents’ insistence that it be ‘She is finishing her high school diploma.
“My dad is definitely very hard to please,” Raducanu, 18, said with a smile on Saturday night. But I got there today. “
She is the women’s qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final, let alone win one. She has won 10 straight matches at Flushing Meadows – three in qualifying, seven in the main draw – and is the first woman to win the US Open title without losing a set since Serena Williams in 2014.
Raducanu, who was born in Toronto and moved to England with her family when she was 2, is also the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles trophy since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. Queen Elizabeth II sent a congratulatory note, hailing the victory as a “remarkable achievement at such a young age.”
There were other firsts as well, emblematic of how quickly it was. For example: Raducanu is the youngest female Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova was 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.
It was the first major final between two teenagers since Williams, 17, defeated Martina Hingis, 18, at the 1999 US Open and the first between two unranked women in the professional era, which began in 1968.
Fernandez, whose birthday was Monday, was interviewed in a pre-match interview in the hallway leading from the locker room to the entrance to the pitch about what she expected the biggest challenge to be Saturday either.
“Honestly,” she replied, “I don’t know.”
Fair. Neither she nor Raducanu could have.
It was only Fernandez’s seventh major tournament; she hadn’t made it past the third lap before. As tears came to her eyes after the final, she told the Arthur Ashe stadium crowd: “I hope to be back here in the final and this time with a trophy, the good one.”
She and Raducanu showed the poise and shooting of veterans at the US Open – not two relative newcomers whose previous one-on-one was in the second round of the Wimbledon junior event he barely three years ago.
The talent and affinity for the big stage that both have is undeniable.
One of the significant differences today: Fernandez only put in 58% of his first serves and finished with five double faults, helping Raducanu rack up 18 break points.
“Unfortunately, I made too many mistakes at key moments,” Fernandez said, “and she took advantage of it.”
Raducanu broke to go up 4-2 in the second set, held for 5-2 and twice was a point to win the title in the next game. But under pressure from Fernandez, she let those two opportunities slip by putting groundstrokes into the net.
Then, while serving for the game at 5-3, Raducanu slid down the field chasing a ball to her backhand, bloodying her left knee while losing a point to give Fernandez a chance. Raducanu was ordered by chair umpire Marijana Veljovic to stop playing so that a coach could put a white bandage on the cup.
So what happened to Raducanu’s mind during this time of more than four minutes at a critical time?
“I was really trying to think about what my play models were going to be, what I was going to try to execute,” she said. “Coming to a breaking point after a… disruption is not easy. I think I managed, for sure, to really play the clutch games when I needed to.”
As if she had been there before, Raducanu saved a pair of breakpoints and then converted on her third chance to close with a 108mph ace. She dropped her racquet, landed on her back and covered her face with both hands.
Eventually, she made her way into the stands to celebrate with her coach and others.
“It’s something that you always think about, that you always work for,” Raducanu said.
Fernandez’s squad – comprising two sisters and mum but not dad, who stayed at home in Florida, where they moved after her early junior successes several years ago – were in the box for the best player. classified.
This is a status Fernandez was not used to in the tournament as she has beaten four consecutive seeds, each in three sets: defending champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, No.2 Aryna. Sabalenka and the n ° 5 Elina Svitolina.
This meant Fernandez had arrived after spending over 12 hours on the pitch in his six games; Raducanu’s main draw total was around 7 hours.
That seemed to be a factor, especially in the second half of the hour and 51 minute final.
From 4 to all in the first set, Raducanu has won eight of the last 11 games. When she broke to take that set with a well-paced, well-placed forehand down the line, she looked around, then whipped her arms – and fans responded.
Raducanu’s only previous Grand Slam tournament was at Wimbledon, where she stopped playing in the fourth round due to respiratory issues. It was in July, when Raducanu was ranked outside of the top 300 and an unknown.
And now? She will climb into the top 25 of the WTA. She won $ 2.5 million. She is famous in Great Britain and the world. She is now and forever a Grand Slam champion.
How quickly everything has changed.
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