For someone that’s followed tennis for the majority of their life, last night and last fortnight’s fairytale in New York for Emma Raducanu is almost impossible to put into perspective.
She is the first ever qualifier to win a grand slam – this is a Leicester City story on steroids.
The great Martina Navratilova probably put it best when the 18-year-old sealed her spot in the final on Thursday – “she must’ve been here in another life.”
In the first all-teenage grand slam final since 1999, she took on an opponent in Canada’s Leylah Fernandez who was also making waves after beating a string of high-profile players, including reigning champion Naomi Osaka.
Perhaps the fact that neither player was expected to make it into the second week of the US Open, let alone be fighting it out for the title, made it less nerve-wracking for both players.
Yet, throughout the last three weeks it didn’t look like Emma Raducanu knew what nerves were – she was hardly threatened in any of her matches – not dropping a set on her way to the final.
That dominance didn’t disappear on the biggest stage of all either.
Raducanu broke Fernandez’s serve at the first-time of asking.
She was pegged back by the Canadian youngster who broke back soon after, but the world number 150 hit back again when it mattered, breaking Fernandez’s serve again to take the first set 6-4.
Flushing Meadows was only Raducanu’s second grand slam.
She became an overnight sensation with her run to the fourth round of Wimbledon this year before suffering a panic attack against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic that meant she was unable to finish the match.
Many were quick to critique, Piers Morgan said she “couldn’t handle the pressure” whilst John McEnroe was doubtful she’d earn a wildcard to the US Open.
The latter was in fact right, she didn’t get handed a wildcard – she went through qualifying.
Emma could very easily have just been a one-tournament wonder and the disappointment of Wimbledon could’ve done lasting damage to her progress.
Yet nothing was further from the truth, she’s taken those difficult times and come back stronger than anyone could’ve ever imagined.
Not to mention that she also passed her driving test and achieved an A* in Maths and an A in Economics for her A-Levels this summer.
She kept up her fearless playing style in the second set – breaking Fernandez again before pushing on to lead 5-2.
The Brit pushed Fernandez all the way, seeing one or two championship points go by before her opponent eventually held and forced Raducanu to serve it out.
The Canadian quite literally made Emma bleed to get to championship point again – a lengthy point saw Raducanu slide across the hard court of Arthur Ashe Stadium and cut her knee open in the process.
A medical time-out ensued, something that is compulsory when a player is bleeding, with Raducanu break point down.
Knee plastered up and break point then saved. Another championship point came – could Emma handle the pressure?
She sealed it with an ace. Dropping to the floor in disbelief of what she’d just achieved.
Her 6-4 6-3 victory saw her pick up a cheque for $2.5 million and become British number one and the world number 23. A rise of 127 ranking places.
The Brit, born in Toronto, to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father was ranked at 336 in the world ahead of Wimbledon this year – her rise is quite simply ridiculous.
And for British tennis fans, well, I think I’m still in shock. As if it’s side-swiped me out of nowhere, because this has come out of nowhere.
No one was talking about her winning grand slams, let alone at just her second attempt.
I guess what makes it so crazy for us Brits is that we have an expectation of it not being this easy – an era of the great Andy Murray has taught us this lesson the hard way too many times.
Of course, we’ve enjoyed his success, the 77-year wait and the other successes that followed. But, that was when Murray was comfortably already amongst the top players in the world, he was a contender, a someone – it was expected of him.
Emma Raducanu was unknown before this summer. I think it’s fair to say she’s now a household name.
Many saw Emma as a rising star and someone with potential to one day possibly challenge at the top of the game.
She’s fearless and refreshing in everything that she does – for British tennis, she’s not just the future but also the present.
By Pete Trifunovic