Emma Raducanu is setting the Big Apple alight as the British teenager stormed into the round of 32 in New York on Thursday with an impressive win over Zhang Shuai, and she is fast becoming a fan favourite, with her dominating game and winning smile.
I'm extremely grateful for all the support I've been receiving here in the States. Honestly, it's taken me a bit by surprise, but I'm so grateful for everyone who's cheering for me. Of course I really want to connect with the fans and people watching because they're doing so much for me, getting me through some really, really tight moments. Connecting with them, I have so much fun, especially the younger kids. I hope that they can get a little bit inspired. Emma Raducanu
“I’ve had five matches here in New York, so I feel very comfortable with the conditions and the courts,” Raducanu said. “I’m getting more and more used to it and, each round, I feel I’m going for my shots more, and today I think that was evident.
“I think I’ve come a very long way since my first qualifying match here, but also since the first tournament of this trip five weeks ago.
“Playing at the tour level for so many weeks in a row definitely builds your confidence and I’ve been fortunate enough to win quite a few matches.”
It took Raducanu 90 minutes to travel from Manhattan to Flushing Meadows for the match, which started an hour later than scheduled while the clean-up continued following Wednesday night’s intense storm.
It did not faze the 18-year old from Bromley in Kent, who avenged the first round defeat she suffered at the hands of the experienced Zhang in San José in her first match since bounding into the public eye at Wimbledon by reaching the 4th round.
The two share a special bond, and talk to each other in Mandarin, with Raducanu’s mother being Chinese.
She took some satisfying revenge on her friend to win 6-2 6-4 in an hour 22 minutes, the same time it took Zhang to defeat her a few weeks ago, to advance to the third round.
The British No 3 conceded just 5 points on her serve and her crisp change in direction, particularly down the lines, helped her to come out on top in most of the baseline rallies, striking 27 winners to 11 unforced errors in total.
Raducanu, ranked 150, dominated for a set-and-a-half to lead before the 32-year old Chinese made any meaningful impact.
It was by no means easy, though as three of the teenager’s 4 breaks of serve came after multi-deuce tussles in which Zhang held at least one game point, but Raducanu doggedly clung on, finding her most accurate returns to deny the World No 49 each time.
Raducanu held 2 points to go up 5-1 in the second set when Zhang finally came alive, smacking consecutive winners to bring up her first break point, and finding a forehand to claw back a game.
The Chinese narrowed the gap to 4-3, thanks to greater intensity in her baseline play, and the momentum seemed to have shifted despite Raducanu conjuring up 3 break points.
Two service winners, a marvellous forehand angle and a 3rd ace, however, saw Raducanu hold for 5-3, enabling her to close out the match on her 1st match point 2 games later.
“That match meant so much to me on a personal level,” Raducanu said. “I wanted to win so, so bad.
“I knew there was going to be adversity at some point in the match and, honestly, I was 6-2, 4-0 up but I was having to work so hard for every single point, and the games, they were very long and challenging.
“The scoreline was saying one thing, but the level of tennis we were both playing, I think, was suggesting a completely different story.
“It didn’t really bother me that she came back because I knew that she’s a great player, she’s extremely experienced, she’s going to throw everything she had at me.
“So I’m just very proud of myself for overcoming that and managing to close it out at the end.”
Raducanu had now won 12 matches since that loss to Zhang in San José, including 5 at Flushing Meadows, which is an impressive feat in itself, particularly in the steamy and noisy environment of New York.
She has yet to drop a set in either qualifying or the main draw and is looking forward to her next challenge in Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, who dispatched Su-Wei Hsieh from Chinese Taipei, 6-1 6-3.
The Spaniard has enjoyed a stellar 2021, and extended her win-loss record to 30-15 matches, including a Montreal quarter-final and Cleveland semi-final ahead of the US Open.
Out on Court 10, there was a sizeable crowd and, after her match, Raducanu stayed behind to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
“I’m extremely grateful for all the support I’ve been receiving here in the States,” she said. “Honestly, it’s taken me a bit by surprise, but I’m so grateful for everyone who’s cheering for me.
“Of course I really want to connect with the fans and people watching because they’re doing so much for me, getting me through some really, really tight moments.
“Connecting with them, I have so much fun, especially the younger kids. I hope that they can get a little bit inspired.”
The polish and poise of Raducanu, both on and off the court, is already inspirational and sets her apart for apparent future stardom.
On her first foray on the pro tour she has already made a quarter-final at the Landisville ITF W100, a runner-up showing at the Chicago 125 and stormed her way through US Open qualifying ahead of advancing to the 3rd round of the main draw.
She is now the youngest player remaining in the US Open draw following the second-round losses of Coco Gauff and Clara Tauson, and joins fellow 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez in the last 32.
Remarkably, she has only dropped 27 games in her 5 matches so far, which means that she has conceded an average of only 5.4 games per match.
The 18-year-old has won fans, hearts and a whole lot of media coverage with her powerful game.
“She’s fearless, she’s confident and, boy, does the British crowd love her,” said Chris Evert of Raducanu, when discussing the three 18-year-old women who entered the Main Draw, including Tauson, who lost her Round 2 match to top seed Ash Barty.
“They have power, they have touch, and they want it badly.”