Emma Raducanu continued her fantastic run at the US Open on Wednesday by beating Belinda Bencic, the Olympic champion ranked No 12 in the world, to reach the semi-finals, the first qualifier to make the final 4 in New York, where she will play Maria Sakkari, who upset 4th-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the night session match.
I have actually got no idea about any of the records at all. It's the first time I heard today that I was the first qualifier to make the semis. I had no idea before that. Yeah, I'm not here to chase any records right now. I'm just taking care of what I can do on the moment and on the match ahead. Emma Raducanu
Once again, the 18-year old Briton settled her nerves to come from behind to defeat the Swiss 11th seed, 6-3 6-4, and has yet to drop a set in the 8 matches she has played at Flushing Meadows through qualifying and the main draw.
“I’m so pleased to have come through that,” Raducanu told the press, after her win. “Belinda is such a great opponent and she’s an Olympic gold medalist, which is probably one of the biggest events in sport.
“She’s a great player, and I knew it’s going to be an extremely difficult match.
“It took me some adjusting at the beginning, to get used to her ball speed, yeah, how aggressive she was.
“Once I adjusted, I settled in. I didn’t over-press as much. I found a way to win, but it was very difficult to play against someone at such a high level.”
Bencic was dominant out of the blocks, pushing Raducanu back behind the baseline with her penetrating backhand, and easily breaking the Brit in the opening game.
Two routine holds later, Bencic was up 3-1, as Raducanu over-pressed with her shots and looked unsettled, but costly errors and a double-fault in the next Swiss service game helped the Brit to pull level at 3-3, and she grabbed the momentum from there.
She used rally forehand winners to break Bencic again, grasping a 5-3 lead, and then coolly served out the set to edge closer to the upset, having won the last 5 games in a row.
Bencic was undone by another double-fault in the second, ceding a 3-2 lead to Raducanu, which proved fatal for the Swiss, who was unable to recover, as the Brit powered her way through the remainder of the clash with no further service breaks.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Raducanu coughed up a double-fault of her own, putting her down 0-30 and offering Bencic a slight chance, but she then reeled off 3 straight points, the last an ace, to reach match point on which she forced an error with a rally backhand to notch up the biggest result of her young career.
“Let’s say I have a hunger to win every single match I play, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself at all, because I just like to take it one day at a time,” Raducanu told the media. “If I take care of what I can control, then that’s going to give me the best chance.
“Until now, I think it’s worked very well for me, not getting ahead of myself, just focusing on one point at a time. It’s got me to this stage, and I’m not going to change anything.
“I have actually got no idea about any of the records at all. It’s the first time I heard today that I was the first qualifier to make the semis. I had no idea before that.
“Yeah, I’m not here to chase any records right now. I’m just taking care of what I can do on the moment and on the match ahead.”
Raducanu struck 23 winners, nearly double her unforced error count of 12, while Bencic had 19 winners and 21 unforced errors, and the Brit was also far more successful on her break points, going 3-for-6, against the Swiss’ converting just 1 to 5.
Raducanu was ranked 361 in mid-June, having not played competitively for 15 months as the pandemic wiped out the ITF tours below the main WTA Tour.
Fresh from taking her A-level exams, in which she received an A* in maths and an A in economics, she arrived at Wimbledon having played just a single senior tour-level match, and reached the 4th round where she was forced to retire mid-match with breathing difficulties.
Now, after beating Bencic, the teenager is set to rise well into the world’s top 50 and become the British No 1, overhauling Johanna Konta and Heather Watson.
Raducanu is also just one win away from becoming the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final, but she is up Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari in the semi-finals on Thursday to do so.
Sakkari claimed the last semi-final spot on Wednesday night with a stunning 6-4 6-4 win over Pliskova, the first Greek woman to achieve this at the US Open.
“I want to dedicate this win to Greece because we struggled a lot last month with some fire damages,” Sakkari said. “So for me winning for Greece, making Greek people proud and happy, especially in difficult times, it makes me even more happy because you know how much I love my country.”
The 26-year old needed 3 hours and 30 minutes to get past Canadian Bianca Andreescu in the latest finish of a US Open women’s singles match, and the big question coming into Wednesday night’s quarter-final was how well Sakkari could physically recover.
There was no sign of fatigue, however, as Sakkari produced a remarkable serving display that never allowed Pliskova a foothold, and she broke the Czech just once in each set, never facing a break point herself in the match, as she served her way to a dominant straight-set win.
Remarkably the Greek lost just 2 points on her first serve for the entire match, 23 of 25, and lost just 8 points on her serve to keep the Czech at bay, winning 22 consecutive service points.
Sakkari finished the match with 22 winners to just 12 unforced errors, while Pliskova, who struggled to find her forehand rhythm, hit 14 winners to 20 unforced errors.
“After reaching my first Grand Slam semi-final at the French, I felt like I can do it again,” Sakkari said. “It was not luck because I beat all these good players.
“Now I think I had one of the toughest draws, to be deadly honest. I think Sloane [Stephens] had a tougher draw than me. But Kostyuk, Siniakova, Kvitova, Andreescu, Pliskova, all these players are players I don’t want to play in the first rounds.
“Going deep, you won’t have it easy. I had to play really well to be here. That gives me a lot of confidence because I beat some very, very good players to reach the semi-finals this time.
“I’m actually feeling really well. I don’t want to jinx it.
“My tennis looks in a great place right now. Mentally I’m pretty calm. I don’t want to get too excited for this win today because I have to play tomorrow. If I had a day off, it would be different.”
On facing Raducanu, Sakkari said: “She’s a new player on tour so I don’t know much about her. Obviously she’s having the tournament of her life. She deserves to be here. She has won all these matches.
“But I wouldn’t call myself the favourite. I think we all have equal chances of winning the semi-finals and then winning the title.
“I would give 25% to each starting tomorrow, then 50 to the two finalists. We are all for a reason here. We’re all playing well. It was not like we had five walkovers. I’m excited to play a second semi-final this year.”
While Sakkari could become the first Greek woman in a major final, Raducanu could become the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final, where she may come up against 19-year old Leylah Fernandez from Canada, a player she knows well.
“I’ve known Leylah since we were juniors, in the Under-12s,” Raducanu said. “We played Orange Bowl and all of those tournaments. I played her in Junior Wimbledon, actually.
“The fact that we are both here in the semi-finals of the US Open after having played each other from the early days, it’s very cool to see just how far we’ve come.”
Fernandez, however, takes on the second seed, Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus.
The prospect of two teenagers in the final on Saturday is mouth-watering, but it could prove a step too far for them both.