The 18-year-old from Bromley in south east London has become an instant sporting icon, a tennis role model and media and marketing darling after her seismic US Open triumph achieved through mental toughness mixed with wit, charm, intelligence, photogenic dark looks already highlighted in Vogue and a smile to brighten anyone’s day. And the offspring of a Chinese mum and Romanian dad can even speak mandarin.
When you think about what she’s done, to be a qualifier and win all those matches in a row and being so young, it’s just exceptional. It’s more than exceptional. Virginia Wade OBE
But her unprecedented achievement as the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam in the 476th major since Wimbledon hosted the debut event in 1877 goes beyond her sport. Anyone’s sport.
Those in Tooting Broadway without any interest in tennis have been captivated by her efforts close to New York’s Broadway. Those beyond her home town, beyond her home shores around the globe have felt the same.
The former grammar schoolgirl who only took her A levels in the summer before joining the professional ranks has given us all hit by the coronavirus pandemic for the past couple of years, a feelgood story to end feelgood stories. A much-needed and mentally uplifting antidote.
Just in Britain, 9.2 million Channel 4 viewers – even if they didn’t know one end of a racket from another – were glued as Raducanu successfully completed what she described as her “free swing” at a major by powering through 6-4 6-3 in the decider against fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez, a 19-year-old Canadian, thus ensuring she did not drop a set in ten matches in the Big Apple over three weeks.
he Emma Effect has been compared to Beatlemania. A grassroots swell to form a love affair with the general public, albeit with an individual wielding a racket rather than playing guitars (although Raducanu did sing along with the 24,000 crowd as Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline blasted out of the Flushing Meadows’ PA as she sat in her chair in the aftermath of the final). Her Instagram followers skyrocketed to over a million.
She has been made a fuss over in the States with TV talk show hosts queuing up to interview her and a visit to Wall Street for the daughter of two financial experts, planned.
Raducanu has clearly become a British national treasure over the past three weeks. She has received messages of congratulations from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the Queen, been tipped for New Year’s Honours and installed as favourite to lift the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
Her Majesty wrote to her, stating: “It is a remarkable achievement at such a young age, and is testament to your hard work and dedication. I have no doubt your outstanding performance will inspire the next generation of tennis players.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said: “Huge congratulations Emma on your stunning performances and historic Grand Slam victory.”
England football captain Harry Kane returned the support Raducanu gave the nation’s football team on their run to the Euro final this summer by cheering them on at Wembley, by saying: “Amazing achievement Emma. You’ve done yourself and the whole country proud.”
Former England striker Gary Lineker, now BBC TV presenter, said: “First time in my life I’ve tweeted whilst on air, but my goodness, what a triumph, what an amazing young woman.”
World motor race champion Lewis Hamilton said: “It has been incredible to see her rise. The focus she has. The sheer determination. She’s inspiring.”
And further afield, tennis legend Martina Navratilova said: “A star is born.”
Raducanu’s sudden, shock elevation into our gaze also happened to be one of the greatest sporting stories. You could put up Andy Murray becoming the first British male to win Wimbledon in 77 years. Maybe unfancied Leicester City winning football’s Premier League in 2016. But those would be from a domestic perspective. Raducanu’s unique achievement as a qualifier gives it a planet-wide perspective. Morever, it was done by someone at the start of her career trek who has been able to forego the foothills and climb an Everest.
Sure we saw a glimpse of her potential in her major debut Wimbledon in July when she made the last 16 before being forced to retire due to breathing problems, which, incidentally, she has insisted were not caused by mental pressures.
But no one was expecting Raducanu to do what she did in New York.
Virginia Wade, who in 1977 became the last Brit to lift a Slam and hugged by Raducanu post-match, said: “When you think about what she’s done, to be a qualifier and win all those matches in a row and being so young, it’s just exceptional. It’s more than exceptional. It’s something when she is out of her tennis career she can look back on and think “Oh, my goodness, was that really possible.”
Wimbledon champion Pat Cash described what she had done as “mind-boggling”. Tim Henman, who Raducanu thanked for his inspiration, was lost for words at what his ‘pupil’ had done, repeating over and over “it’s a joke”.
No wonder. Raducanu was world 338 at the start of Wimbledon and only 150 on the eve of the US Open; still a wet-behind-the-ears pro with her mere few months experience.
But cometh the woman, cometh the hour. And the world is her oyster.
* Quotes from Daily Mirror